PORT CHARLOTTE, FLA. Juan Gonzalez strolls through the Texas clubhouse, a bat in his hand and a smile on his face.
On the way to his locker, sandwiched by those of Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez, Gonzalez chats with several teammates. He exchanges fist bumps with one of the team's equipment managers.
Gonzalez, who spent the last two seasons in Detroit and Cleveland, is happy to be home.
"I'm excited and happy. My level, it's in the sky because I came back home," Gonzalez said. "I feel comfortable. I'm happy, I'm healthy. I'm ready to play baseball."
That's a great sign for the Rangers, who finished last in the AL West each of the last two seasons after they traded the two-time AL MVP.
Gonzalez, the team's career leader in homers (340), RBIs (1,075) and runs (791), is at his best when he's comfortable in his surroundings. He also prefers a place where he's not always in the spotlight.
Texas is a perfect fit for the low-key slugger.
The Rangers signed Gonzalez when he was 16 in 1986, and he spent the first 11 seasons of his major league career with them. He's reunited with many old friends, including Palmeiro, All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez and hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
There are plenty of others on the team who will happily handle the attention, including shortstop Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod is the most visible player on this team, having led the AL with 52 homers last season in the first year of his record $252 million contract.
Gonzalez will also be playing for manager Jerry Narron, an easygoing guy who was the third-base coach when Gonzalez left.
"He's as happy as I've ever seen him," Palmeiro said. "You can just see it in him out on the field. The way he's talking out there, the way he's playing the game, he's thrilled to be back. He's going to help us a lot."
Gonzalez never wanted to leave, but fearing they would lose him to free agency the next year, the Rangers made a nine-player deal with Detroit after the 1999 season.
In his only season with the Tigers, Gonzalez played in just 115 games due to ankle and back injuries. He was unhappy in Detroit, and hit .289 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs, his lowest total ever in a full season.