All-Star summer: Gomez is nonstop fun and a huge talent

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2014 - 12:20 PM
hide

Milwaukee Brewers' Carlos Gomez slides home safely on a Jonathan Lucroy two RBI single off of St. Louis Cardinals' Seth Maness during the fifth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Photo: Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

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.’’

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.’’

“I thought that was a neat picture — players from Japan and the Dominican Republic enjoying each other’s conversations through an interpreter,’’ Melvin said. “Then Carlos took his son on his little scooter out to center field, and they rolled around on the turf.

“Carlos makes the game fun.’’





 

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions
Final123456789RHE
Minnesota000000000040
Detroit «00100002X340
@Ballpark Replay
Preview | Matchup | Lineup | Log | Wrap | Box
W:D.Price(15-12) L:K.Gibson(13-12) S:J.Nathan (35)
HR: MIN- None DET- I.Kinsler (17)

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez 0
Minnesota 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Detroit 0
Montreal 3 FINAL
Chicago 1
Arizona 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Hamilton 10/10/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 10/11/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Is Paul Molitor the best choice to manage Twins?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close