MILWAUKEE — Rarely is there any activity on the field before a Sunday afternoon game as team’s don’t usually take batting practice prior to a day game after a night game.
This particular Sunday, Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez was out chasing balls in the outfield. No, Gomez wasn’t getting in some extra work, the balls he was chasing weren’t even baseballs.
Gomez was throwing whiffle balls to his four-year-old son Yandel, chasing him around Miller Park. The moment seemed so innocent, but yet was a telling illustration of Gomez’s current comfort level both on and off of the diamond.
“He’s really fun,” Gomez said. “It’s one of the best moments in life I can have. When I wake up he tells me he wants to hit. He tells me this is how (Norichika) Aoki hits. This is how Rickie (Weeks) hits. I’m enjoying it. I say ‘Thank you God’ for giving me the opportunity to see my son growing and to see my son be like his dad, probably better.”
The journey began for Gomez long before Yandel entered his life. Leaving the Dominican Republic at the age of 16, Gomez set out on a path to ensure the life of his future family would be better than the one he had growing up.
Long touted as having tremendous potential on the baseball field, Gomez had the Mets, Twins and Brewers waiting for that breakout season. Sensing it was coming after flashes of excellence in 2012, Milwaukee gave Gomez a three-year, $24 million contract extension this past offseason.
The Brewers put their faith in Gomez, and he’s certainly appreciative.
“It’s what you work for,” Gomez said. “I get the opportunity to give to my son the things that I never had. I have a great family, great parents but we didn’t have the money. I didn’t go to the high school to teach me like a little kid should be (taught). Now I have the opportunity to give my son the stuff I never had. A better house, better life, better school, better university, better education.
“Everything I do, I do for my family. Every move that I take, every decision I’m going to make, my family is how I think.”
While some let financial security relax their work ethic, Gomez seems to have found a way to be relaxed and comfortable while still having the necessary edge. There’s no more worries about the near future. Gomez knows he’s going to be in Milwaukee. He also knows his family is taken care of, giving him a tremendous piece of mind while on the field.
Gomez entered play Thursday atop the National League with a .365 batting average, making the contract appear to be a bigger bargain for the Brewers with each passing game.
“Just come here and play and relax and enjoy the job that I love and continue to prove that I’m the player that deserves that kind of money,” Gomez said. “Winning now is more important because now I have the opportunity to play everyday and I have my future safe and I’m healthy. Now I can just concentrate on winning games and preparing yourself.”
While in Minnesota, Gomez and former Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla earned the nicknames “Loose Cannon One” and “Loose Cannon Two” from Twins manager Ron Gardenhire because of their unpredictability on and off of the field.
Gardenhire knew a time could come in which Gomez slowed the game down and let his raw talent take over, and it appears as if the comfort of having security mixed with an increased maturity that comes with age is helping Gomez achieve just that.
“Loose Cannon One is another one of my favorites,” Gardenhire said. “You never knew what he was going to do. He’s entertainment. I still love watching that guy play.
“You gotta remember when this guy was on the Mets he was a top prospect. They said this guy could be a 30, 40 home run guy with speed, the whole package. He has a lot of tools. And whether he was going to be calm enough to able do those things, you never knew. He’s probably still excited but he’s calmed down and matured through the years.”
The crazy swings are still there. Gomez will take a hack so strong that his helmet will fall off or he’ll even fall down on occasion. But he’s work hard to improve his approach and pitch selection at the plate, and it has shown through results.
“He’s been taking good batting practice, he’s having good at-bats,” Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. “As long as he does that I think it’s inevitable that eventually he’ll start having some success. He’s really strong, he’s really fast, and as long as he puts the ball in play he’s got a good chance to get some hits.”
Winter ball has long been a part of Gomez’s offseason routine, but he skipped it this past offseason. Gomez had to leave his winter ball team in 2011 when Yandel was hospitalized for 15 days with meningitis and bacteria that spread into his brain.
He sat by his son’s hospital bed as doctors tried to figure out the best way to treat him. After the scare, Gomez knew he had to spend more time with his son. He woke up early each day this past offseason to make sure his workouts would be over by noon so the rest of his day could be spent as a father.
Between his time with his son and his time training with former Major League outfielder Manny Ramirez, Gomez had a fulfilling offseason and was confident heading into the upcoming season.
But he still made a tremendous personal sacrifice in order to continue to improve as a player during spring training. Playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic would have been a tremendous honor, but Gomez instead decided to skip playing in the tournament to stay with the Brewers.
It’s all been worth it thus far, as Gomez has put it all together for an extended stretch of time.
“I have to continue,” Gomez said. “It’s only 100 at-bats. I still have 500 more at-bats. It’s good to start like that. It’s confidence for anybody. Just keep going game by game. I don’t care what I did in the past. I care about the game I’m going to have today. I prepare myself to have a great game so I can bring something so we can win games.”