MILWAUKEE — Last offseason, Carlos Gomez spent the winter working on his approach at the plate with former big league catcher and manager Tony Pena.
The work paid off, and the Brewers center fielder put together the best season of his career. As he enters the final year of his contract, Gomez recognizes the importance of 2013 and has again taken a different approach to his offseason routine. For the first time in his 10 professional seasons, the 27-year-old didn’t play any kind of winter ball.
Instead, Gomez spent the offseason working with former major league outfielder Manny Ramirez in the Dominican Republic.
“To have the opportunity to work with one of the best hitters in the game for a long time, that’s going to help for this season,” Gomez said when in Milwaukee for Brewers on Deck last weekend.
After taking a month off to recover from a season in which he hit a career-best .260 with a career-high 19 home runs and 51 RBI to go along with a career-high 37 stolen bases, Gomez got to work. He’s spent the past two months building body strength, adding flexibility and improving his already blazing speed.
“This year is special for me,” Gomez said. “When you have a good season, you have to get better. I worked on my body to get stronger and faster than I used to be. I take my time with my family and work out every day so when I come to spring training I’m ready to start right away.”
The focus on personal improvement was only one of the factors that played into his decision to skip winter ball. Gomez has always been a family man, but his appreciation for his family grew after the scare his young son Yandel endured last winter.
Playing winter ball at the time, Gomez had to leave his team when Yandel was hospitalized for 15 days with meningitis and bacteria that spread into his brain. Gomez endured a tough time while 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 now 4-year-old son. He woke up early each day to make sure his workouts would be over by noon so the rest of his day could be spent as a father.
“It’s fun,” Gomez said. “It’s the first time with my son to spend the whole day with my son. It’s something I really enjoyed this offseason. My son is getting bigger, and I have to spend more time with him.”
Though Gomez hasn’t worked with Pena yet this offseason, their time together is coming. Pena – who has a father-son type of relationship with Gomez – will manage the Dominican Republic’s team in the World Baseball Classic. Gomez, who will play in the WBC, also has a good relationship with Moises Alou, the general manager of the Dominican team. Alou has kept in contact, always telling Gomez he wanted him to roam center field for the national team this March.
“It means a lot for everybody,” Gomez said. “If you represent your country, they are proud. It means a lot for me and my family. It also means a lot to all the kids and people from where you come from; they are proud of you. You are their hero.”
Not only is Gomez the guy in center field for the Dominican Republic, he’s again the man in center for the Brewers. When he was acquired from Minnesota in 2009, Gomez was given the starting job but eventually lost that spot to Nyjer Morgan in 2011. As Morgan fell apart last season, Gomez began to flash the five-tool ability he possesses.
Now, with Morgan in Japan, Gomez is the only experienced center fielder on the roster but recognizes he has to build on last season in order to stay in the lineup.
“I always feel like the number one (guy),” Gomez said. “Right now I’m the center fielder, that’s what they say. But if I don’t do my job, they are going to (find somebody else). I have to be consistent, do my job every day to have my name in the lineup and play to win games.
“I prepare myself to play 162 games. If I play 162 games, a lot of things can happen. I know I can hit over 20 home runs and steal bases. Keep working and be healthy is the more important for me.”
Gomez is going to be healthily rewarded after the season in free agency if he continues to hit for power, steal close to 40 bases and play Gold Glove-quality defense. But that’s not his focus right now. Gomez is focused on doing whatever he needs to do to help Milwaukee win.
“For me, I take it day to day,” he said. “This season is important for me and for the Brewers. We are trying to be a winning team.
And he even went as far to make made a bold prediction.
“I think we are the best team in this division.”
Even with an inexperienced pitching staff?
“It’s not about names,” Gomez said. “The coaching staff, the pitching coach, they know we have good arms for starting pitchers. They did a good job in the minor leagues; they have to keep throwing the ball like they do.
“If those guys can continue to throw the ball like they did last year, we are going to be fine. We are going to be fine. We are going to surprise a lot of people.”