Astros' energetic center fielder grateful for Brewers' belief
By Mike Bauman
MILWAUKEE -- The future is bright for the Houston Astros, that much is clear. With Carlos Gomez on the team, the future is bright and smiling.
Gomez's description of his team is extremely encouraging. The 2016 Astros are "really balanced," he said, with speed, a highly productive lineup, a good rotation and a good bullpen. Then there is one more important element.
"And we're going to be fun," Gomez said with a smile. "We're going to be fun, because the thing that we do inside [the clubhouse] is have fun. Everybody's smiling; we have like 27 Carlos Gomezes inside there."
Gomez, all by himself, has enough enthusiasm, exuberance and just plain baseball-playing joy for an entire roster. Friday night was like a Gomez reunion between his current self with the Astros and his former self with the Milwaukee Brewers, the team with which his career blossomed.
The center fielder returned to Miller Park for the first time since the Brewers traded him and starting pitcher Mike Fiers for four very promising prospects. Milwaukee was beginning a rebuilding project. Houston was rising out of its own rebuilding and would reach the postseason as a Wild Card team.
Gomez battled an intercostal injury late last season, but now he is in good health and full humor. He can help a team in several ways. Gomez has power. He has speed. He can be a sensational center fielder. He won a Gold Glove Award in 2013. And then there is the ever-present personality.
"What Carlos does is he loves to play. And that rubs off on your team," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "There's a lot of energy on both sides of the ball. It seems like everybody in the ballpark knows when he's up to bat. He's a fun entertainer. He takes the game very seriously, despite the flamboyant style. He's made an impact on our team, and it's fun to have him around.
"We let our guys be themselves. There's a ton of good that comes with Gomez on a daily basis. He loves to win, he loves to play, he loves his teammates, he loves entertaining the fans, and he brings it every day."
Gomez's all-out style endears him to his teammates, but is not always well-received by the opposition.
"I told him at the beginning of the season," Hinch said with a smile, "we're probably going to have an altercation because of him, and we'll protect him. But there's no shortage of energy when he shows up at the ballpark every day."
There have been attempts made to get Gomez to cut down on his swing, which classically features his helmet flying off from the force of the swing.
"The helmet still comes off," Hinch said. "I'm not sure if it's a helmet issue or a swing issue, but it's a life of itself. You know what's funny is the BP swing is still under control, but in the game, the competitiveness comes out and the game plan breaks down."
In Gomez's first two stops in the Majors, with the Mets and the Twins, he struggled. He also struggled for a time with the Brewers. But the Milwaukee organization stayed with him, and Gomez emerged as an all-around impact player, with speed, power and brilliant defense, along with a relentlessly positive approach.
So when Gomez was asked what his best memory was of the five-plus seasons he spent with the Brewers, he responded:
"I had a lot. The best one is the opportunity that they give to me when I'm not doing so well, and they continued to believe in me and give me an opportunity. ... And it's something I'm never going to forget, me and my family."
Gomez was so fond of the Milwaukee experience that he said he would like to retire as a Brewer. The fondness was reciprocated. When Gomez came to bat in the second inning, he received a prolonged ovation from the Miller Park crowd of 30,100.
"That feels like for six years here, I did my job when I played in this ballpark," Gomez said. "I feel really emotional about this. It really means a lot for me and my family, because I see the love of the people. We're not talking about two or three people. We're talking about thousands. When I come here, I'll always feel like I'm coming home."
In the game, Gomez made a classic diving catch of a liner to left-center, saving a run. In four at-bats, he had a double and an infield single.
There was not a happy ending for the Astros in Gomez's return to Milwaukee, where the Brewers beat Houston, 6-4. The contest concluded when a controversial application of the "Chase Utley" slide rule ended an Astros rally and the game.
There will be many better days for the Astros. And with Gomez on the roster, the better days will be joyful days, as well.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.