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Juan Back in Confort Zone
By Evan Grant
The Dallas Morning News

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - According to local lore, two elusive, mythical legends stalk the Puerto Rican countryside. One is the Chupacabra, a tropical cousin of Bigfoot, who attacks small animals in the dead of night.

The other actually exists.

This was confirmed Saturday at 11:22 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time when Juan Gonzalez leisurely strolled up to a kiosk-sized cellular phone star at The Plaza de las Americas, the largest mall in the Caribbean, and started signing autographs.

It was the first time he had been sighted in public since he agreed to terms on a two-year, $24 million contract that returns him to the heart of the Rangers lineup after a two-year absence. Gonzalez's low profile ? he had even declined to join a teleconference after the agreement was reached ? led some members of the Puerto Rican media to speculate that the man called Igor was not happy with his circumstances. How could a two-time MVP still in the prime of his career rate nothing more than two years or $24 million?

Rest assured, Gonzalez is not unhappy. On Saturday, his warmth was genuine and his smile huge when talking about returning to the organization that gave him his start in baseball.

"It's very important for me to come back to my home," he said after an hour-long autograph session, in which the crowd regularly grew despite the lack of advertisement or promotion. "I've still got family in Arlington [his son, some nephews and a sister], the Rangers have great fans, and I think we've got a great team. It makes me feel comfortable and that makes me happy.

"Money is not the only thing that makes people happy. I've got my life, my health, my family. And, hey, I can go out into the mall right now and not that many people will be making $12 million. It's a lot of money."

Gonzalez doesn't actually have the money yet, but is expected to sign the contract after taking a physical on Tuesday in Arlington. The physical was delayed for more than a week by a middle-ear infection that prevented him from flying. The only concern is his back, which has been cranky throughout his career. But, Gonzalez said, the back has not been a problem since 2000.

After the physical, it should be a clear path for a Gonzalez-Rangers reunion, which seemed extremely unlikely in the aftermath of his November, 1999 trade to Detroit. In the year that followed, a frustrated Gonzalez attacked the Rangers' organization on several occasions.

By the middle of 2000, he was telling old teammates he wanted to return. That almost happened last December, but then-general manager Doug Melvin thought the Rangers' money would be better spent elsewhere. Gonzalez went to Cleveland and had a tremendous season, but still didn't get offered anything more than $36 million for three years from the New York Mets.

Rather than switch to the National League for the first time in his career, Gonzalez chose the Rangers. He said he hopes it's the first step in finishing out his career with the Rangers.

"I realized how much I missed Texas from the day they traded me," Gonzalez said with a laugh on Saturday. "But that was not my decision. That was a different time with different people in charge. In my opinion and in the opinion of many people, they made a mistake when they traded me."

"When I go back out to right field at The Ballpark, that's going to be an exciting moment for me. One of the most exciting moments of my career."

That is a true story, no myths involved.

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