Jonny Gomes has been in Major League Baseball since 2003 but it wasn’t until 2008 that I paid much attention to him. That year, in a spring training game the Tampa Bay Rays were playing against the New York Yankees, Gomes ran from his position in right field all the way into the infield to body slam Shelley Duncan who had just spiked Gomes’ teammate, second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Duncan had barely stood himself up when he took the hit from Gomes. The 2008 spring season was an exciting one for these two teams, full of insults traded through the media and fights on the field (and beginning when Elliot Johnson of the Rays broke Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli’s wrist at the plate in a game prior to the one with Gomes and Duncan fighting).
I have never been what you would call a fan of Shelley Duncan’s so I appreciated Gomes having the back of his teammate and it’s fair to say that I liked that scrappy fella. But that was in March of 2008. Come June of 2008 and I wanted Gomes’ head on a platter. Preferably served by Coco Crisp. In March, Gomes was suspended for two games. In July, his transgression got him a five-game suspension. In a bit of irony, the Rays were upset with Crisp for his hard slide in the previous game into, you guessed it, second baseman Akinori Iwamura. Crisp charged the mound and the benches emptied. As Coco was being taken down, Gomes got in quite a few cheap shots that weren’t missed by the powers that be at MLB.
So when it was announced in November that the Red Sox had signed Gomes to a two-year, $10 million deal, my first reaction was: “Someone refresh my memory…why do I think Jonny Gomes is a dick?” because while I remembered that I didn’t like him, I had forgotten the reason why.
But aside from the brawl with the Red Sox in 2008, I couldn’t find anything about him to dislike. And, if I’m being honest, even the brawl thing is hypocritical of me. I was okay with his blindsiding Shelley Duncan but not okay with his being one of many in the middle of the fray at Fenway? So I decided to do some research and see what I could find out about him in preparation for my having to root for him come 2013.
It’s been a while since I’ve done this but I figured it was time to pull out my Five Fun Facts: Jonny Gomes edition:
1) He has an older brother who also plays professional baseball. Like his brother Jonny, Joey Gomes was also drafted by the Rays, albeit a year later than his brother. He spent 10 years in the Minor Leagues, playing the outfield and first base and is currently the co-owner of and instructor at the Redwood Baseball Institute.
2) In 2002, when he was 22 years-old, Jonny was stricken with a heart attack. He ignored the signs for 27 hours before he decided to have his mother take him to the emergency room on Christmas Eve. He had a pinched coronary artery but, to this day, the doctors still don’t have a reason for that happening.
3) While with Tampa Bay, he spent an awful lot of time doing charity work including working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, spending time at Camp for a Cure and he was even the prize in the “Take Jonny to School” contest where a 13 year-old Tampa girl brought him to middle school for the day. In 2012, it was reported that he was the player who came up with the idea of the Oakland Athletics awarding one of the team’s playoff shares to charity.
4) Dude’s a patriot. He was one of a handful of Rays players who participated in a campaign even with then Senator Barack Obama (very cool photographic evidence here) and he also lent his name to a t-shirt sold to support the USO and American troops.
5) He’s one of Santa’s helpers.
(Another bonus fact: Red Sox fans should be aware that this photo exists so you aren’t taken by surprise when it starts resurfacing in 2013!)
So he’s been in the league since 2003 and the Red Sox will be his fifth team, yet short of the two brawls in 2008 that he was a part of, finding reasons to not like him has been a chore. So I’ve decided to let go whatever hostile feelings I felt toward him and embrace him as a member of the team that will make us all forget 2012 ever happened. Welcome to Boston, Jonny!