Daddy D of error card fame decided to treat the compa and me to a ball game in Chicago while were in IA, being only a short drive away. And yes, ANY ball game is a GREAT ball game, and ANY ball game at Wrigley is SPECTACULAR, and being with family is awesome, but....
The Reds were in town, which meant I got to see Jonny Gomes. As a fan I watched Jonny come through Durham and bounce back and forth with TB, and I can say he's a real pleasure to watch. He's generally excited about something, he swings a 3-foot piece of rebar in the on-deck circle, and exudes a genuine enjoyment for the game.
He is one of the most important players in the history of the Rays franchise, although I get the feeling the 20 years from now most Rays fans will have forgotten how/why he is important. Well, we all remember that going in to last year the Rays were no good, by which I mean although their minor league system was loaded and successful, the big club wasn't getting anywhere. Despite their immense talent, in the best of times they were patsies for the Yankis and Red Sox. Without getting overly analytical, there was psychological barrier to their running with those teams, and those teams pushed them around pretty forcefully as a result.
Step in Jonny Gomes. During spring training last year another Durham alum, Elliot Johnson, broke the wrist of a Yanki minor leaguer in a play at the plate. Antics ensued, and a few days later Yanki Shelley Duncan spiked the Rays' Akinori Iwamura going into second. Even if one thought the former play was questionable, there's no doubt the latter was outright dirty. Gomes flew out of the dugout and, as they say, kicked ass and took names in the defense of his teammate.
Later in the regular season, when Red Sox Coco Crisp went after the Rays' James Shields, Gomes once again led the charge, landing several haymakers. There's been a lot of talk that Gomes was punching a defenseless Crisp, but my take on it is this: there are baseball fights where the idiot batter charges the mound and the dugouts empty only because they have to; and then there are brawls where a hit batter is much more an excuse for teams who genuinely don't like each other to get after it. Read the write up in the link above: this one was all-out and ugly. And let's not forget, the night before Crisp had done some rather ill-advised mouthing off and threw an elbow into Iwamura on a routine steal, so he had pretty much challenged the Rays to kick his ass. CC even got in a few punches according to the write up.
Anyway, by leading the charge Gomes served notice the Rays were for real and could compete with anyone. I'm not a fan of physical violence, but it's always been a part of sports, and the shady underside of baseball in particular, from Ty Cobb to Bob Gibson to Pedro Martinez. By going after them, Gomes showed the Rays weren't going to take that kind of crap anymore. And if people did try to intimidate them, well...Gomes would be in their nightmares.
Which leads me back to Gomes and the game at Wrigley. The Durham Bulls changed unis after last season so they sold off all their old, smelly, game used togs in March. I was lucky enough to score Gomes's jersey from last year, when he was with the Bulls biding time between stints with the Rays. I'm not a big memorabilia guy, but this was Gomes's jersey! I went to the game early while the compa and her dad went for beers (Cubs fans!) and waited around while the players stretched out.
Now, I hate being a creepy auto-grubbing adult. It seems like almost no one signs at the park anymore, and I noticed on the back of the tix to my last Twins game it says that MLB policy is that players WON'T sign at the park.
But I was only interested in Gomes. Not Votto, not Bruce, not Lee, nor Ramirez. Just Gomes. Gomes was shagging flies in LF during BP, so I went on the left field line. He seemed to have adjusted to life in the NL and was regularly tossing balls up into the LF stands, warming up the crowd over there, etc. Things wound down and he started to jog in, so I called his name and held up the jersey. He came over and I told him how much I enjoyed watching him in Durham. He kinda smiled, signed the jersey, and jogged on in.
I didn't grow up in a big league town so, despite my age, ball players are still like icons for me, and I'm sure I sounded like a complete idiot. Like the compa says, it's more proof she's married to a 12 year old.
Anyway, Jonny was really cool and I can't thank him enough for signing the jersey, especially since players don't do that too much anymore and MLB apparently discourages it. It's a great sig, and a great memory of one of the most important players in the Rays' rise to prominence. I hope I'll see him again one day at a Rays old timers event or something, because the organization as well as the fans owe him a lot of thanks.
So, I'm off for beers with the Daddy D and the compa. Jonny, the first beer is for you!