He tapes his left wrist because of an old surgery, and wears a sleeve on his right arm in part, he says, because it “looks cool.’’ Before games, he will sit between two other former Twins, pitchers Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse, and quiz them on how they would pitch to him.
“Hey, I don’t deserve any credit,’’ Garza said. “He’s such a hard worker. I remember when he first came up, he was an out. Now he’s one of the premier hitters in the league. That’s all due to his perseverance and his fortitude. He’s determined to be a great player, and I don’t think there’s anything that can stop him.’’
Built powerfully at 6-3, 220 pounds, Gomez is the rare player who makes big-league ballparks look small. He has thrown runners out at third from the warning track. He has launched home runs that threaten to send Bernie Brewer to concussion evaluations. He has stolen bases with a few strides and a dive.
“I can get better at everything,’’ he said. “I’ve been around a lot of good baseball players, and every day I learn something new from them. I talk a lot to the pitchers, like Kyle and Garza, and they give me a lot to work on with my mind.’’
When the Twins traded Gomez to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Brewers told Gomez to feel free to swing for the seats. He didn’t become a star immediately, but General Manager Doug Melvin saw enough promise that in the spring of 2013 he signed Gomez to a three-year, $24 million contract, drawing ridicule because of Gomez’s undisciplined plate approach.
Now Melvin looks prescient and Gomez has become the smiling face of a first-place team.
“He’s got more confidence now,’’ Melvin said. “We’ve allowed him to play his game, which is an aggressive game, knowing there will be some mistakes. With those kinds of tools, he’s no different than a pitcher who has that good fastball who might take an extra year or two to develop. We live in an impatient world, but we have to separate that from the game we work in. Everything is Instagram and texting and e-mailing and the results have to be there right now, and every game gets analyzed that way. But this game requires patience.’’
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke agreed, with a chuckle. “He’s really fun, and he’s really challenging,’’ Roenicke said. “He’s got energy, he’s a great teammate, he plays hard. And he’s very good. The challenging part is the stuff that he goes a little too far with.’’
A flair to his game
Gomez might be the only player in baseball who sprints around the bases on no-doubt home runs but occasionally lapses on balls that stay in the park. “You say, ‘Maybe, Carlos, not only could you have been on second on that ball — you could have been on third,’’ Roenicke said. “He’s emotional.’’
Gomez was at the center of a brawl with the Braves last year and the Pirates this year as opponents took exception to his flamboyance.
“When American players go to a Latin country to play, they come back here and understand and respect the way we play,’’ said Gomez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic. “It’s not about showing people up. Showing them up is hitting a home run and staring at the pitcher. I don’t do that.
“Americans who have played in our countries know that we’re not planning what we’re going to do when we hit a home run, we just do it. I don’t scream at pitchers if they throw me three sliders in a row. I will go fix myself and come back and try to get it the next time. If you get irritated, that’s what I want. If you get concerned with this, you’re the only one who is going to have trouble.
“I think emotion is good for baseball. This is not 1970. This is 2014.’’
Which should mark another year in which Gomez visits old friends at the All-Star Game. “To come back to Minnesota to play in the All-Star Game, this would be special for me and my family,’’ he said. “I got my first All-Star berth in New York, where the team gave me my first opportunity to play in the big leagues. To go to Minnesota, which gave me the opportunity to be in the big leagues for two years, it would be amazing.’’
The updated version of Gomez Googles “rich people conversations.” He had one at Miller Park the other week.
Before a game against the Yankees, Gomez and his son were riding a scooter when they came upon Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who signed a $155 million contract this winter.
Gomez pulled up and, through Tanaka’s interpreter, said, “Welcome.’’