Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Sunday stories leading up to the All-Star Game at Target Field.
It was said that Cool Papa Bell could flip the light switch and be in bed before the room got dark.
Carlos Gomez might be just as fast, but he’d never make it. He’d flip the switch, then stop to chat, practice his swing, pantomime someone else’s swing, ride his scooter, wrestle with his son, check his fan mail, or bounce around on the balls of his feet just because he can’t stand still.
Gomez multi-tasks at warp speed. Last week in Milwaukee you could find his name and face in so many places, you had to wonder if baseball’s newest technology is superstar teleportation.
His face beams from highway billboards, on bobbleheads stuck to miniature outfield fences, and on a recent cover of Sports Illustrated. In the story, teammate Ryan Braun said Gomez Googles “rich-people conversations’’ so he can chat up other members of his new tax bracket.
Gomez surprised one of his biggest fans by inviting her to throw out the first pitch, and visited a local school.
Last year, he made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove and finished ninth in the NL MVP balloting; this year he’s far better. His OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) last year was .843; this year it’s .988. His speed has made him the Brewers’ regular leadoff hitter; his power has made him their temporary cleanup hitter, with Aramis Ramirez on the disabled list.
Gomez is among the first Brewers to arrive at Miller Park each day, and usually among the last to crawl out of the ice bath and leave. In between, you can see him on the field taking early batting practice, pounding home runs that make big-league managers stop in mid-sentence, then taking ground balls at shortstop and threatening to fire fastballs past his teammates from the mound, all the while laughing and gesturing.
The man can talk with his hands. Entering the weekend, the former Twin ranked among the top 10 in the National League in hitting (.323), home runs (11), steals (10), on-base percentage (.394), slugging percentage (.594), OPS, hits (62), runs (35) and doubles (15). He also had 30 RBI.
There is one saving grace for the Twins in Gomez’s emergence as a spectacular five-tool center fielder and potential MVP: Former Twins General Manager Bill Smith no longer needs to hide behind ferns when fans talk about the Johan Santana trade. The Twins correctly identified Gomez as a potential star. They just gave up on him three years before he became a competent big-leaguer, four before he became a standout, and five before he became one of the best all-around players in the game.
“Look at that,’’ Orioles manager Buck Showalter said last week while watching Gomez launching massive home runs to left in batting practice. “He’s just absurd.’’
And absurdly likeable. Gomez may be the most joyful player in baseball. He is the rare individual you would pay to see play, and the rare baseball star who would probably pay to play.
“I have to continue to work to get better and to prove myself,’’ he said last week. “This is not good enough.’’
Loving what he does
His improvement is the product of diligence and ambition. You could call it hard work, but Gomez looks like he enjoys every minute.
He arrives early and uses a scooter to traverse the corridors between the players’ parking lot and the clubhouse. Between swings in early batting practice, he pantomimes other players’ stances. Instead of shagging balls in center field, he’ll play shortstop during batting practice because “it’s more of a challenge, and it makes playing center field feel easy.’’