Gomez learned how to play game 'right' from father
Center fielder signed first Major League contract on Father's Day
MILWAUKEE -- Father's Day will always conjure a particularly special memory for Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez, and the dad who bears the same name.
The holiday is celebrated in July in the Dominican Republic, and it marks an anniversary of sorts.
"It makes me feel emotional," Gomez said. "When I signed [with the Mets], I signed on Father's Day, and when I got the opportunity to come here to the States, he held my shoulder and told me, 'This is the opportunity I never had. Don't worry about us. Work, learn, have a good attitude every day you go to the job, no matter what you do. Have a smile on your face, and the day is going to start good.'
"That's what I do. As soon as that plane took off from the Dominican, I started crying. I was 16 years old, I'm going to miss my family. As soon as I got to the States, every time I looked in the mirror, I looked at myself and thought, 'Wow, I'm by myself now.' Every day, I work like my dad told me. That made me feel motivated to never give up."
Carlos Sr. was a fine player in the Dominican Republic, first as a second baseman and then -- "When he got old," his son says with a sliver of a smile -- a center fielder. Briefly, at the very end of his career in the Dominican Republic's top league, Carlos Jr. served as his father's backup. Dad ultimately moved to right field so his son could take over center.
"That's how everything started," Carlos Jr. said.
Said Carlos Sr. with pride, "I played the game the right way."
What Carlos Sr. lacked was size, a feature evident when he stands beside his son today. The younger Gomez, who is in his second season as a bona fide big league star -- is listed as 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds in the Brewers' media guide, yet runs so swiftly that he was long ago saddled with the nickname, El Potro -- The Colt.
This is no accident. The Brewers' Gomez told a great story during Spring Training about how his father, intent on producing a son who would grow big enough and strong enough to play in the Major Leagues, set out to "marry a big woman to have a big kid."
He wed Belgika, who gave him three children. Carlos Jr. is by far the biggest.
"When he was 8 years old, I told my friend, 'He's going to be a baseball player. A real baseball player,'" Carlos Sr. said during an interview with MLB.com, his son serving as translator. "I took him everywhere to see how to play baseball and learn and pick something [up] from everybody else … 'Every day, learn something new from me and from my friends.'"
Today, the younger Gomez looks back and realizes, "He's the guy I owe everything. He's an example to [get an] education, be a good father, respect -- and give everything I have right now. I remember the words they told me. 'If you're going to play ball, you're going to play right, or not play.'
"When I was 12, 14 years old, I was just playing around, not taking it seriously. When he told me those words, I took it seriously. [My father said,] 'You have special talent. You can be a superstar, so work hard and you'll see everything is going to come one day.' That's what I did, and now I see the result."
It took time. Gomez made his Major League debut as a 21-year-old with the Mets in 2007, and he then was traded to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal. After two maddening seasons with the Twins, Gomez was traded again -- this time to Milwaukee for popular shortstop J.J. Hardy. He did not emerge as an everyday player until 2012, when he set career highs in home runs and on-base percentage.
The next spring, the Brewers gave Gomez a four-year contract and he delivered his finest season. He ranked ninth in National League MVP Award balloting, made the All-Star team for the first time and won the Brewers' first Gold Glove Award in 31 years.
"He reminds me of myself," Carlos Sr. said. "Every move he makes, I enjoy it because it's a dream. I used to be a baseball player, but I didn't have the opportunity [to play in the Majors]. Every time [his son] steps on the field, I feel like I do it. It's not one special moment. Every day I watch him play is special."
So, once and for all, who is the better ballplayer?
The son translates. The Dad smiles.
"When we were the same age, 16-21, I used to be better," Carlos Sr. said. "I used to be faster. I knew the game more than him. But I didn't have the same luck that [his son] had."
Carlos Jr. broke out of his role as translator and fired a comeback.
"It's not lucky," he said with a wide smile. "I have more tools, more ability to play. Every time we joke around, play around like that, 'Who's better? Who's better?' I say, 'I'm the one who has almost eight years in the big leagues!'"
They'll never settle it.
Maybe they don't want to.
"Every time I see my dad, it motivates me," Carlos Jr. said. "He's my best friend … I have my own family now, and I want to teach my son the right way like my dad did for me."