Tuesday, April 3, 2007 | Here’s the most interesting comment expressed by Adrian Gonzalez on Sunday when it was announced the Padres had signed him to a four-year deal:

“This is the team I admired growing up,” Gonzalez said. “This is the team I hope I’m with for the rest of my career.”

Gonzalez, the 24-year-old first baseman opening his second full Major League season with the Padres today in San Francisco, was the first pick of the 2000 Major League Baseball draft by the Florida Marlins. He was a two-time San Diego All-CIF Player of the Year at Eastlake High in 1999 and 2000.

Imagine a high draft pick from San Diego making such a statement back in the Padres’ bad-old-days of the 1970s and 1980s, a time when a San Diego kid watched the Padres play in the Southern California shadow of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Do you think former Dodgers first baseman Eric Karros, the Patrick Henry High alumnus, grew up wishing he played for the Padres instead of the Dodgers?

I still remember Dick Serrano — the retired legendary University High baseball coach who has turned out current Major Leaguers such as Arizona Cardinals outfielder Carlos Quentin, San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito and Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior — chastising his team by saying, “You’re playing like the Padres!”

San Diego, remember, is referred to as “The Factory” by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, himself a former high draft pick from San Diego’s Mt. Carmel High. Somewhere out there is future Adrian Gonzalez who watched the Padres win back-to-back National League West titles.

Say what you want about Padres owner John Moores not opening the bank vault for high-priced free agents, but the franchise has never enjoyed more benefits from the stability that has been established than it does now.

Gonzalez played his formative years as a teen-age prospect at a time following Moores’ purchase of the franchise in 1994. By the time Gonzalez graduated in 2000, the Padres had won National League West titles in 1996 and 1998 — only the second and third in franchise history — and faced the New York Yankees in the 1998 World Series.

Gonzalez’s history with the Padres may explain how contract controversy that seemed to be brewing was put aside before the first pitch of the season.

A month ago, it was confounding when the Padres renewed Gonzalez’s contract at $380,500, a mere $500 above the league minimum. Internet message boards and fans on sports talk radio called the Padres cheap.

Gonzalez was the Padres’ team MVP after the club acquired him from the Texas Rangers in a January, 2006 trade. Gonzalez finished 2006 having batted .304 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. He also lowered pitching ERAs and raised fielding averages with his slick glove at first base.

But Gonzalez didn’t publicly criticize the Padres. Maybe he was confident all along that he and his agent, John Boggs, would work out a deal with Padres general manager Kevin Towers and Moores.

“This is a special day for this organization,” Towers said upon announcing the deal with Gonzalez. “The great thing is we avoided the arbitration process and ensured that one of San Diego’s own will play here in his hometown. We’re proud to say that Adrian is going to be the centerpiece of the infield, the middle of this lineup, not only for this contract but hopefully for many more.”

In Gonzalez’s four-year deal, he will earn $500,000 this year, $750,000 in 2008, $3 million in 2009, and $4.75 million in 2010. The Padres have an option year that they can pick up at $5.5 million in 2011.

Gonzalez has a sweet swing and natural feel for the game, so he should still be churning out .300 batting averages through 2010. By then, the market may have changed so that $5.5 million is a bargain in 2011.

But what was important to Gonzalez was playing for a stable franchise in his hometown with a fair contract. Maybe if he was still in Florida or Texas he would want more money, but we don’t need an answer to that question.

“I look forward to trying to help this team win a championship,” Gonzalez said. “With the pieces that we have this year and the years to come, I think we’ll be able to accomplish that.”

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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