Gonzalez's newest gripe: Comerica's fence depth

DETROIT - Pressed for the umpteenth time this season about his future - whether in Detroit or elsewhere - Juan Gonzalez stood in front of his locker at Comerica Park and suggested the matter might finally hinge on the ballpark itself.

Gonzalez wants Comerica's distant fences in left field and left-center to be brought closer. It is not, he suggested, a subject for debate.

"Yeah, it's necessary," said Gonzalez, the Tiger right fielder and impending free agent who was obtained in November's nine-player trade with Texas. "In my opinion, it's necessary."

The Tigers have a different point of view on Comerica's home-run distances, which they don't - at least for now - intend to change, either for Gonzalez or for any of their power hitters.

"We've found the ball carries better with warmer temperatures," General Manager Randy Smith said. "We think all of the (hitting statistics) bear that out."

The differences on Comerica Park's sizes are a kind of parallel to the whole Tigers-Gonzalez odyssey only three weeks after Gonzalez refused a trade that would have sent him from the Tigers to the New York Yankees.

Gonzalez said - again - that he is "happy" in Detroit. He appreciates the ownership and front office and enjoys playing for Manager Phil Garner. He is also boosted by the Tigers' improved play - a great deal of it having happened while Gonzalez has been injured - and he insists that life in Detroit has become comfortable.

But he stops short of declaring Detroit will be his big-league home beyond this season, just as he turned down the Tigers' offer last winter of $148 million to be spread over eight years.

Gonzalez is convinced Comerica's deep distances in left field (398 to the heavy part of the power alley) penalize right-handed hitters compared with left-handers, who have generally found Comerica more friendly because of the 365-foot distance in right field.

"I don't know if he'll live with that," said Luis Mayoral, the team's Latin American liaison and Gonzalez's confidant, speaking of left field's reaches. "It's an excessive distance for right-handed hitters."

Gonzalez, though, has other reasons for being deliberate when it comes to Detroit. He believes that it cannot hurt to at least hear what a couple of American League teams - especially the Cleveland Indians - might offer him this autumn when he could become a free agent.

The Indians have long been a Gonzalez favorite because of their previous place among baseball's elite teams, and, just as much, because Gonzalez has a passion for hitting at the more homer-friendly Jacobs Field.

The Tigers are maintaining an unemotional stance in trying to secure Gonzalez as the game-breaking hitter they crave.

Ironically, only a few weeks after he had become so discouraged at prospects of signing Gonzalez that he tried to trade him to the Yankees, Smith believes a long-term deal is within reach.

"I thought (the near trade) would bring both sides closer together, and in some respects I think it has," said Smith, who does not expect to trade Gonzalez before Monday's trade deadline. "Some things have changed in the marketplace - some things are still going on. But we're among the top couple of clubs where he may ultimately want to stay."

Mayoral agrees.

"If Juan wanted out of Detroit, New York would have been his answer," said Mayoral, who still isn't sure the fence issue will be resolved by Detroit's summer weather - not when Gonzalez must cope with Comerica Park in April and May.

Mayoral added: "I have a gut feeling that the man will remain a Tiger. Not once has he told me he wouldn't. The Juan I know likes to feel rooted - he likes staying in one place."