Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | Two years ago, inside the Padres’ clubhouse, Adrian Gonzalez sat before his locker and leaned back when asked to explain his breakthrough season in the Major Leagues.

It was a matter of getting consistent at bats, said the then-24-year-old first baseman that finished 2006 hitting .304 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. Gonzalez was enjoying his first full year in the big leagues after the Padres had acquired him in a trade with the Texas Rangers.

But before the Eastlake High alum finished the thought, he switched the subject to his older brother, Edgar Gonzalez.

At the time, Edgar was in what would be the sixth of seven seasons spent in the minor leagues with five organizations. But Adrian said as soon as Edgar got a chance, he’d prove he’s a big leaguer.

If you had never seen Edgar play, it was fair to assume Adrian was sticking up for a big brother caught in the shadow of his more famous little brother.

Who knew? Well, Adrian did, and now we all know.

Edgar, who turned 30 on June 14, is making the most of his first big-league opportunity. Since his call-up from Triple A Portland and his Major League debut on May 12, Gonzalez is batting .309 (30 for 97 in 34 games) entering tonight’s series opener against the Minnesota Twins at Petco Park.

“I was judging his talent by his swing,” Adrian said during last weekend’s series with the Detroit Tigers. “I had been around the clubhouse and seen Major League talent, and I knew he had the same kind of talent. I love his swing, his approach and his passion for the game.”

Edgar, a 6-foot, 180-pound utility infielder, is the little big brother to Adrian (6-2, 225). Edgar’s versatility allows him to fill in at second base, shortstop and third base, and he could play the outfield if needed.

But he’s recently been a regular at second base — batting second ahead of Adrian in the lineup and positioned alongside him on the field — after Tadahito Iguchi went on the disabled list June 6 with a shoulder injury that is expected to sideline him four to six weeks. Since June 10, Edgar has seven multi-hit games.

The Gonzalez brothers consider each other best friends and credit their parents, David and Alba, for the lack of a sibling rivalry. The brothers Ray and Robert Barone, these two aren’t.

Sports annals are filled with examples of little brothers striving to live up to their big brother — some succeeding, many failing. But what’s it like when the little brother is the shining star?

“I think it’s easier,” Edgar said. “When it’s your little brother, you want to take care of him. You want the best for him. You want him to thrive. I remember in college, I would sometimes get out of practice early just to watch his high school games. I was more excited about the (upcoming) draft than him.”

In the 2000 Amateur Draft, the Florida Marlins made Adrian, a high school senior, the first overall pick.

In the same draft, but a few hours later, Edgar, a San Diego State junior, finally heard his name called in the 30th round by Tampa Bay Rays.

“When he got drafted, I was excited for him,” Edgar said. “When you’re the older brother, you have a bond. Our older brother (David Jr.) is happy for both of us. He loves coming to the games and watching us play.”

Adrian, 26, says he’s the player he is today — an all-star candidate with a .294 average, 21 home runs and 65 RBIs that lead the National League — because of his three mentors. There’s his father, David, who played professionally in Mexico; David Jr., who played at Point Loma Nazarene College before an arm injury ended his career; and Edgar.

In fact, and here Adrian goes again, he doesn’t finish the thought without suggesting David Jr. could have been a big leaguer if he was spared injuries.

“He had the talent and the ability,” Adrian said, “but an infielder with no arm is a problem.”

Because David Jr. and Edgar were infielders, they’d position Adrian at first base to field his throws when the brothers practiced at a local diamond. Adrian says that’s how he developed his slick glove.

Adrian’s respect for his brothers is so firmly rooted, he won’t acknowledge he’s the best of three, although he would be the only person in a crowd of 40,000-plus at Petco Park that wouldn’t vote for him.

“Adrian never says he’s better, even though we all know Adrian is a special talent,” Edgar said. “Adrian is a special talent, but he doesn’t think he’s special.”

No, he thinks the special ballplayers in the family are his big brothers.

“I would never say I’m better than them,” Adrian said. “How can you say you’re better than someone you learned the game from?”

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

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