Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hard-nosed Gomes stands his ground

The morning sun still arrives from the same direction. The grass is still green. The signs still read the same.

Nope. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything new about rightfield.

Except for this: At long last, Jonny Gomes owns it.

The Chosen Ones, Josh and Delmon and Elijah and Rocco, are all gone. One by one, they have been banished or bartered or busted or battered. Gomes is the last man standing.

Somehow, he has outlasted them all.

For Gomes, rightfield has never looked so much like his yard.

For the Rays, the desire has never been so great to see him stay there.

It has been a busy week for Gomes, what with baseball and a brawl and tackling drills and a two-game suspension. That's the thing about Gomes. No matter what is going on with the Rays these days, he seems to be in the middle.

Also, perhaps you noticed this: When Rocco Baldelli limped away to the disabled list, it was Gomes who inherited rightfield.

Right about now, Gomes, 27, would probably add the word "finally."

Who would have thought it? Gomes was never the Golden Boy, never the one who was promised tomorrow. He played hard, and there was muscle in his bat, but the Rays always seemed to have more heralded prospects and more gifted athletes in line ahead of him.

There was Hamilton. The first time Gomes saw him, he thought: "He's the greatest athlete I've ever seen."

There was Young. The first time Gomes saw him, he thought: "He's a major-league All-Star."

There was Baldelli. The first time Gomes saw him, he thought: "Woosh. He's a special, special player."

There was Dukes. The first time Gomes saw him, he thought: "He's a good baseball player, but I choose not to surround myself with guys like him."

And still, Gomes plugged and pushed and prodded. Perhaps that is why he is still here. Perhaps he was more relentless than the others.

Know this: There is nothing laid-back, nothing calm about Gomes. He lives his life as if there are two outs in the ninth and the bases are loaded and the bars are closing and the fuse is burning and the air is running out. He is all scar tissue and tattoos, and there is always one more beer and one more blonde in his future. He is an amplifier at a heavy metal concert, and the drums are never fast enough and the guitars are never loud enough. He is part Mike Alstott and part Andre Roy, part Halo and part Doomsday.

Also, he plays rightfield.

"Even when I was young, I was the kid who had to earn his way," Gomes said. "I was never the guy who was penned in no matter what. I had to earn my way. I never had a silver platter."

Now that it is Gomes' turn, there already is talk that the Rays will pursue another outfielder to share time with him. Of course they will. Gomes has hit .292 against lefties but only .223 against righties. The numbers suggest a platoon system.

Still, you get the feeling the Rays would love for Gomes to stake his claim to rightfield. His personality has infused the clubhouse. His fire has won over the grandstands. Who doesn't want to see what Gomes could do with five starts a week? Besides, perhaps, the Yankees.

"I came into camp wanting to play 162 games," Gomes said. "If the team wants to throw all of their eggs into my basket, I would appreciate it.

"I'm a streaky player right now. My ups are so high, but my lows are so low. I need to find the middle."

If he can, Gomes figures to be among the most popular of Rays. Most people appreciate a player who makes it the hard way. Besides, there is that Everyman quality to Gomes. You grew up with a guy just like him.

"He grew up in a lot of small towns," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of the fans' affinity for Gomes.

Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Gomes has hung around longer than other outfielders. For him, growing up took a little surviving, too.

When he was 16, he got into a back seat on the left side of a car. There was no particular reason he chose to sit behind the driver. He could just have easily have gotten into the other side.

A few minutes later, the car crashed into a telephone pole. Adam Westcott, Gomes' best friend, died in the accident. If Gomes had been in the other back seat, it would have been him.

When he was 22, Gomes felt some chest pains. He went to sleep. The next day, on Christmas Eve, his chest still hurt. He thought about taking NyQuil and going back to sleep; no one wants to go to the hospital on Christmas Eve.

Instead, he went to the hospital. He was in the middle of a heart attack. If he had gone to sleep, doctors say, he would have died.

Perhaps that explains Gomes' full-speed, fast-forward approach to life. Perhaps he is making up for lost time. Perhaps he is cramming in all the life he can manage.

"If I sat in front of a psychiatrist," he said, grinning, "I would make his head spin."

Instead, Gomes rushes into the day. For now, rightfield is his.

If someone else wants to take it, they're in for a fight.

Hard-nosed Gomes stands his ground 03/15/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 11:18am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays rally twice to beat Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Starting Erasmo Ramirez on Monday after he closed out Sunday's marathon win turned out, despite the Rays' best intentions and rigid insistence, to be a bad idea as he gave up four runs without getting through three innings.

    Erasmo Ramirez, starting a day after closing a 15-inning marathon, struggles against the Rangers and comes out after throwing 43 pitches in 21/3 innings.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Monday's Rays-Rangers game

    The Heater

    The Rays had good reason to have faith in RHP Erasmo Ramirez starting Monday after closing Sunday based on his resiliency, versatility and efficiency. But it still turned out to be a bad idea as he allowed four runs without getting through three innings.

  3. Rays journal: Dugout bench becomes bed for Logan Morrison at end of long night

    The Heater

    ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays found creative ways to get through the physical and mental fatigue of the 6½ hours they spent playing — and ultimately winning — Sunday's game in Minnesota.

    Corey Dickerson drapes towels over an exhausted Logan Morrison in the dugout during the 15th inning of Sunday’s marathon victory.
  4. Rays at Rangers, 8:05 p.m. Tuesday, Arlington, Texas

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Rangers

    8:05, Globe Life Park, Arlington, Texas

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun, 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 2: Nick Martinez #22 of the Texas Rangers poses for a portrait during photo day at Surprise Stadium on March 2, 2015 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images)
  5. What major sporting event could Tampa Bay land next?

    Lightning Strikes

    We are on quite a roll as a community. First, we had a Super Bowl drop from the storm clouds into our lap. It just reaffirms the fact that Tampa Bay is great at lap. And Monday it became official: Next year's NHL All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. The best in the world will be here to shoot and score. And …

    MVP Wayne Gretzky is congratulated at the 1999 NHL All-Star game, the last time the event was in Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times file]