FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 2002 Portland Sea Dogs finished 63-67 and didn’t bring a whole lot of talent to Hadlock Field.
But there was the kid at first base.
Adrian Gonzalez began his only season in Portland as a 19-year-old, a prospect with outrageous potential.
Now he’s back in New England, 28 years old and ready to use his gifted swing to lead the Boston Red Sox.
“He’s going to wear out the Green Monster,” Matt Raleigh said, referring to Fenway Park’s left-field wall.
Raleigh was the hitting coach for Portland in 2002, the last year the Florida Marlins were affiliated with the Sea Dogs. It was his first coaching assignment and in walked the young Gonzalez, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2000 and the recipient of a $3 million signing bonus.
“One of the best hitters you could possibly have,” Raleigh said. “He has such an easy, effortless swing. He has the ability to go the other way.
“Back then he wasn’t a big guy, but he could create a lot of power with his swing.”
Gonzalez got off to a slow start, but still batted .266 with 17 home runs and 96 RBI.
Gonzalez remembers Portland.
“It was cold,” said Gonzalez, a San Diego native. “It was tough because of the weather.
“Then it started getting hot and I started getting good. But then I got hit and it backed me up again.”
For a five-week stretch in June and early July, Gonzalez was batting .309, but then was hit on the wrist by a pitch.
He played through the pain, missing only two games, but probably should have sat. Gonzalez needed surgery on the wrist after the season.
“It set me back quite a bit,” Gonzalez said. “It took me a good year and a half to two years to get back to 100 percent.”
Still, Gonzalez had quite a year, even with the wrist injury.
“Adrian was pretty impressive,” said Anthony Iapoce, 37, a Sea Dogs teammate of Gonzalez’ and now the minor league hitting instructor for the Toronto Blue Jays.
“He was ahead of the game mentally, always figuring out what the pitcher was trying to do.
“He was very patient for his age. He also played a heck of a first base. He was always talking about the game. He had baseball maturity and baseball savvy.”
And he liked to work.
When Gonzalez was first drafted and signed out of high school, he was assigned to the rookie Gulf Coast League team in Florida. His manager was Kevin Boles, the newly named Sea Dogs manager.
In 2000, Boles got a tip that Gonzalez was sneaking out at night — to take extra batting practice.
“He was going to batting cages and putting quarters in the machine,” Boles said. “He said, ‘I’m used to taking this many swings.’ That’s the kind of work ethic and makeup this kid had from Day One.”
Boles put a stop to the night-time batting practice, wanting to keep the prized prospect from wearing down.
“I still have my reports on him from back then,” Boles said. “I put down ‘franchise-type first baseman. Offensive force. Multiple Gold Glove winner.’
“And the swing? It was beautiful.”
But the Marlins didn’t wait for Gonzalez to develop. He was traded in July 2003 to the Rangers in a deal that brought closer Ugueth Urbina to Florida, helping the Marlins win the World Series.
But Texas already had a first baseman named Mark Teixeira. Eventually, before the 2006 season, the Rangers traded Gonzalez to San Diego.
In the past five seasons with the Padres, he batted .288 with 161 home runs and 501 RBI.
Now he brings his act to Boston. Portland fans and teammates can recall his last time in New England.
“I just remember him driving the ball to left-center at will,” Iapoce said. “And he loved to drive in runs.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: