EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 22, 2013

Gomes' winning influence worth the two-year deal

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — BOSTON — Winning follows Jonny Gomes almost everywhere he goes.

He’s sort of like Johnny Damon in that respect.

Gomes certainly had a blast last year on a young Oakland Athletics squad, which won the AL West on the final day of the season after being nine games under .500 on June 10.

“I think in a unique situation, probably only there where it would work, was the lack of service time that every one (on that team) had,” Gomes said. “You see all the time people going into Oakland. They hate going into Oakland because there’s so much foul territory, it’s not a good clubhouse (facility-wise), it’s not a good field. It’s a graveyard. You can’t hit it out of there.

“How do you get that as a home-field advantage?” Gomes added. “Well, you get a whole bunch of guys who are just stoked to be in the big leagues — they could play on a sandlot — they don’t care. They’re just happy to be in the big leagues. So that was huge. And that created all those walkoffs. Fourteen walkoffs.”

The Oakland Athletics are in Boston today through Wednesday to play a three-game series against the Red Sox. They are indeed one of the most interesting teams in baseball. Their success last year, which was based on youthful talent, energy, good pitching, strong defense and a home-run hitting lineup, has carried into this year. They entered yesterday leading the AL West.

Meanwhile, one of the most interesting players on the Boston Red Sox is Gomes, who was instrumental in building a winning attitude in Oakland last year.

Winning undoubtedly does follow the 32-year-old. He has been on first-place teams in Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and Oakland within the past five years. And there is reason for that.

Some wondered what the heck the Red Sox were thinking when they gave Gomes a two-year contract this past offseason. Some still are pondering that decision because the outfielder isn’t an everyday player and has a .244 career batting average.

But it should not go unrecognized that Gomes is invaluable to a clubhouse’s attitude and work ethic. He’s funny, laidback and keeps his teammates focused on winning.

His bat might not be worth a two-year deal. His below-average defense certainly isn’t. But his infectious personality is worth it.

“Jonny’s got a lot of veteran experience and he’s been on a lot of winning teams,” said Royals catcher George Kottaras, who played with Gomes in Oakland last year. “A lot of teams have good players. At the same time you need guys who keep a loose clubhouse and make it fun and joyful. Just playing with Jonny, he’s a great clubhouse guy. He picks up his teammates. He’s there for everybody.”

Gomes, who has a ton of tattoos and one very unkempt beard, probably was the best veteran a young A’s clubhouse could have had last year because he taught the rookies what it meant to be an Oakland Athletic.

Gomes was born and raised in Petaluma, Calif., which he said is about 40 minutes away from the Athletics’ O.co Coliseum. He attended games there before the upper deck, better known as “Mount Davis” was built in the mid-90s. He was a fan when the Athletics made three consecutive World Series from 1988-1990.

He would tell his Athletics teammates last year that he went from wearing Oakland Athletics pajamas to an Oakland Athletics uniform.

“I wanted to create a home-field advantage,” Gomes said. “I would tell all these kids (on the team), I was like, ‘You see this hole in the wall and all this rust? That’s not old. That’s history. Because when I was a young pup, you went to Oakland. You didn’t go to Candlestick (Park). You didn’t go to the Giants game. That was like a mess. This was the hot ticket in town.’”

Gomes certainly has helped improve the vibe of the Red Sox clubhouse. It’s very early, just 18 games in, but Boston, which finished last year in last place, is in first-place in the AL East and playing better than anyone expected.

Gomes pointed out this Red Sox team is having a similar type of fun in the clubhouse that the 2012 Oakland A’s had, but the Sox have way more of a veteran presence.

“Oakland, we won the AL West last year, but with that being said, you don’t want that blueprint,” Gomes said. “Down the stretch, all five starters were rookies — our starting pitching. You definitely don’t want to copy that. But at that same time, that’s what worked for that year.”

Gomes has developed into a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse despite not being one of the centerpiece starters. He certainly should have won over fans by staying positive and not complaining one bit about playing time when Jackie Bradley Jr. started over him earlier this year.

“When you play this game long enough, you really don’t really look at stats anymore,” he said. “You really don’t look at how many All-Stars (a team has). You look at their character and how they play the game because when you’re around the game long enough you create this love for the game to where it chaps your (butt) if someone doesn’t play the game right. Not only does it do that, but you don’t want that person in your clubhouse.

“Without any overwhelming speech, or without bringing anything up, we’ve got 25 guys who respect the game and play the game right,” Gomes added about this Red Sox team. “I’ve got three division titles in the last five years. If you were to ask what all those teams have in common, I’d just we were all tugging on the same direction, on the same rope.”