PHOENIX — Explaining how a natural introvert such as himself could flash Mickey Mouse ears in front of more than 50,000 screaming fans, Adrian Gonzalez looked around the Dodgers' locker room.
"It's the clubhouse," he said. "It's the city, it's the fans."
The acquisition of Gonzalez and three other players from the Boston Red Sox in 2012 was expected to transform the Dodgers, and it did.
What was unknown at the time was that the deal would also change Gonzalez.
With the Dodgers, Gonzalez has allowed his personality to emerge in ways it never did with the Red Sox or San Diego Padres.
"Not that he was uptight before, but he's coming into his own right now, being himself, having a lot of fun," said Carl Crawford, who accompanied Gonzalez from Boston to Los Angeles.
Gonzalez now punctuates big hits by mimicking explosions with his hands. One of the most enduring images of the last Dodgers season was of Gonzalez celebrating a home run in the National League Championship Series by raising his hands to the side of his helmet as if they were Mickey Mouse ears.
The gesture was intended as a playful response to St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright, who accused Gonzalez of doing "Mickey Mouse stuff" earlier in the series.
"I think it's some of the things we were hoping to see in San Diego, a little more emotion," former Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. "He didn't show it nearly as much."
Gonzalez's even temperament helped him stay consistent and handle the ups and downs of a 162-game season. He made three All-Star teams with the Padres and another with the Red Sox.
And despite a few demonstrative moments, Gonzalez said he is still the same level-headed, detailed-oriented person he was in San Diego and Boston.
"I show up to the clubhouse and I'll have my whole day planned out," he said. "I get changed and go do my things."
His production remains high. Last season, he drove in 100 runs for the sixth time in his career, batting .293 and belting 22 home runs in the process.
The difference now is that he can mix in a laugh more often. He credited such players as Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe and Yasiel Puig for lightening the mood in the clubhouse.
Said Gonzalez: "You'll do more things than you're accustomed to doing because you're doing it with them."
Even during games.
The hand gesture mimicking the explosion was something Uribe started last spring. Gonzalez joined him for the sake of camaraderie.
But once the fans noticed, Gonzalez had no choice but to continue.
"I can't not do it anymore because everyone in L.A. loves it," Gonzalez said.
Crawford, who has played in Boston and Tampa Bay, noticed how the crowds in Los Angeles are different than in most other markets. They not only accept on-field theatrics, they practically demand them.
"The vibe is just real loose," Crawford said. "It's a relaxed-type place."
The celebrations became a part of the Dodgers' identity, so much so that the team's NLCS showdown against the straight-laced Cardinals was viewed in some parts of the country as a culture war. Gonzalez said the narrative didn't bother him.
"That's the spin that certain people took," he said. "But we're just having fun."
What did bother Gonzalez was how Puig was demonized outside of Los Angeles.
"What are they seeing?" Gonzalez said. "Let's talk about that a little bit. They're seeing him throw the ball as hard as he can. Why? Because he wants to get somebody out.
"They're seeing him run really fast to try to get to second base. Why? Because he's playing hard. When Bryce Harper does that and makes an out, they don't make a big deal about it, even though he does it just as many times as Puig does. You look at that and you're like, 'Is there any difference?' "
But aside from that, Gonzalez cherished the experience.
"We were having fun as a team," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing, when you're having fun as a team and are able to feed off each other. We all had different things we were doing and enjoying each other. It was fun to be in that atmosphere."
Twitter: @dylanohernandezCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun