BOSTON Even before he ever cracked a big league lineup, Jonny Gomes began grooming himself to play left field at Fenway Park.
Gomes is now the newest member of the Red Sox and the teams left fielder. The Sox announced Saturday the free agent agreed to a two-year (10 million) deal.
Im excited, Gomes said on a conference call with the media Saturday afternoon. I think the challenge is as big of a challenge as you can put on it personally. Obviously getting drafted by Tampa, made it through the organization pretty fast, was up and down between the big leagues and Triple A early in my career. But the Triple-A Durham park has almost the exact dimensions in left field as the green wall, and I always thought young in my career I was grooming myself to play left in Boston one day. And this was obviously even before I was in the big leagues, obviously Manny Ramirez was there, so it was far-fetched.
But really worked hard on that wall, really studied the angles, and really took the challenge as something exciting and not something difficult. So I do have quite a few starts in left field in Boston, but I got years of starts in Triple A underneath that wall in Durham, which is just about exactly the same.
Gomes, 32, was an 18th-round pick of the Rays in 2001, making his big league debut in 2003. His first major league road trip, beginning the 03 season, went to Yankee Stadium and then Fenway Park. In his 10-season career, he has played with the Rays, Reds, Nationals, and As. He has appeared in 327 career games (290 starts) in left field, and 145 (130 starts) in right.
He appeared in 99 games for the As last season, batting .262 with 18 home runs, 47 RBI, a .377 on-base percentage, and .491 slugging percentage. He appeared in 39 games (25 starts) in left field, three in right field, and served as the designated hitter in 53.
In 31 career games at Fenway Park, Gomes, a right-handed hitter, has hit .262 with three home runs, seven RBI, a .354 OBP, and .429 SLG. He hit .2991126.413.561 in 196 plate appearances against left-handed hitters in 2012, .209721.324.391 against righties.
In 2012 Gomes led the majors, hitting .480 (12-for-25) with two outs and runners in scoring position, the best mark in the American League in 17 years. He hit .311 (19-for-61) with runners in scoring position, and .306 (38-for-124) with runners on base.
Im not really too concerned about how Ill be used, Gomes said. I came up groomed into believing that this is a results-driven industry. And if the results are there, youll play. I try to get myself ready one way, and thats to be ready for 162 games and thats to be wherever the manager puts me, left, right, DH, or wherever the manager wants to put me that day. But I have one way to approach the game and thats to be ready every single day, and one way to approach the offseason and thats to get myself in shape for 162 and like I said before this is a results-driven industry. So if the results are there, youll play. So Ill be ready to play every single day and hopefully I can keep myself in the lineup.
Gomes is a student of the game, with an obvious appreciation for its history. Even as a visiting player at Fenway, he respected the history of the games oldest big league park.
You cant help but to be in awe of the history of the ballpark, he said. The further you walk in and the more you play, the more history escapes you really cant help but to take. Its almost selfish to say its just your team vs. the Red Sox. There are so many battles and so many pitches and home runs exchanged and world champs that paved the way for me to get in between those lines. Its so much more than a nine-inning ballgame that Im playing that day, which I definitely dont take for granted and Im very appreciative of.
Now, hes looking forward to being part of it.
First and foremost, nothing less than honored, he said. When you have a team with the history-rich organization, the fan base, educated fans, its an honor. Not everyone has had the path that Ive had, bouncing around. Ive played for the youngest organization in Tampa. Ive played for the oldest organization, that being the Cincinnati Reds. Ive played for the team that I grew up cheering for, the Oakland As. And now I get to play for what I think personally is the mecca of baseball fan base. Chevy, American pie, and baseball. And baseball, thats the Red Sox. So Im definitely honored.
He watched from afar as the Sox suffered through their disastrous 2012 season.
Obviously what happened last year, unless you were living under a rock, what went on with the Red Sox, and I know the core guys with the Red Sox, he said. I know the guys that have been there for a while. I know Dustin Pedroia, I know Jacoby Ellsbury, I know Jon Lester. I know Big Papi David Ortiz. So right away, without even signing, I was like the Red Sox are going to play with the biggest chip on their shoulder. Knowing the pasts of those guys and how they play, I said theres no possible way that would happen two straight years to the Sox nation, and telling myself, I would love to be a part of that.
I would be honored and love to bring back the fire to the Nation. And ironically enough, the phone rang. And at the end of the day, where I am in my career, it wasnt about location, it wasnt about need, it wasnt about money. It was about being wanted. All I wanted was to be wanted... Me being a historian of the game and a fan of the game, it was a pretty easy decision to be able to call Fenway home.
Gomes has a reputation as a stand-up guy. A solid character in the clubhouse. Someone who will lead by positive examples. How does he see his role in turning the team around from 2012?
I always say how does a big machine run? he said. Well, a big machine runs with a lot of grease. You get a tall building with all kinds of fancy windows. Well, its that foundation that keeps that building up. I always say I represent the grease that runs the machine, not the machine. I represent the foundation, not the star at the top.
And for the Red Sox, that may be just what they need.