BETTER OFF RED INTERVIEWS JONNY GOMES
On Thursday I spoke to Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes over the phone…and lived to tell about it. Below is the transcript of that conversation. Read at your own risk. (audio MP3 file of the interview is at the bottom of the page).
BETTER OFF RED: Jonny Gomes, welcome to Better Off Red, how’ve you been?
JONNY GOMES: I’m doing well, thanks. I’m getting a chance to kick my feet up and make a late push for Father of the Year with my new daughter. And I’m taking in this beautiful weather here in Arizona.
BOR: Where are you, Phoenix?
BOR: So when the team is in Spring Training, do you stay at home?
JG: Yes, yes, this is beautiful for me. We were in Sarasota and then before that, St. Petersburg when I was with Tampa, so this is a pretty unique situation for me where I get to sleep in my own bed for another six weeks and get out by my barbecue right after Spring Training. It’s pretty ideal for me.
BOR: Congratulations on having your option exercised. Some folks lose sight of the fact that baseball players are actually human beings; can you explain what it’s like to be wanted back by the team you helped lead to the postseason last year?
JG: That’s what’s unique about our situation as ballplayers, is job security. Being on the road so much and traveling so much; during the season we call Cincinnati home but none of us actually lives there, so it’s still life on the road. So to be able to have some job security this early (in the offseason) is special and I’m excited about it. And what I’m telling people is that the executive of the year (Walt Jocketty) picked up my option, so that’s saying a whole lot about him and myself, at least that’s what I’m taking from it.
BOR: Statistically, your numbers in the first half of last season were outstanding but kind of tailed off in the second half. What do you think the difference was from one half of the season to the other? And are there specific adjustments that you feel you need to make for 2011?
JG: You know I kind of think people get lost in the numbers. If I would’ve kept up the pace I had in the first half, I would’ve ended up with 35 (homers) and 115 or 120 RBI. That’s an MVP caliber season and that’s tough to keep up. And if you do keep that pace up, you do get the MVP and we’re hopefully going to see that with Joey Votto. We had some guys who had a rough first half and picked it up in the second half. That’s why we have nine starters and 25 guys on the team, unlike in the NBA where there are just five that you have to rely on. That’s why I think we had so much success was because guys at different points in the season were driving the bus. We were picking each other up and it was alright to go on a little slide because you’d have some time to work the kinks out. At the end of the year, I was 4 RBI shy of 90 which is a smidge less than a hundred and I was right around my career average – actually a little higher – and I was right around 20 homers, so I’m happy with it. I definitely had a slide in the second half, but it’s hard to maintain. I actually had the exact opposite (in 2009); I had a slow first half but really picked it up the second half. I’m excited for this year coming up to find a happy medium and work off my past.
BOR: You’re obviously a fan favorite here in Cincinnati, and I think that could perhaps be attributed to the way you go about your business. You play hard, you’re intense and it’s clear that you really respect the game. Was that approach taught to you or were you just kind of born with it?
JG: I was kind of born with that approach and I actually learned very early that I was never the “silver spoon” guy and was never given a second opportunity. My motto was always “the time is now.” I really wasn’t sure, even last year, when my last game was going to be. So if I have that big league uniform on or I have a baseball uniform on in general, I’m going all out. I’ve worked too hard to go lackadaisical and just go through the motions. And not only that, I really enjoy the game and enjoy being out there. You can see that in my style of play. I enjoy running hard to first, I enjoy beating out an infield single, and I enjoy stretching a single into a double. That’s what brings a smile to my face and that’s why I work hard in the offseason. I also have to give credit to the guys who came through Cincinnati before me who groomed the fans on how to play the game; the old Big Red Machine and the early 90s teams that paved the way for me with the fans.
BOR: You were a finalist for the Heart and Hustle Award and although you didn’t win it, you received the most online votes by the fans, by nearly 2,000 votes. You actually received 23% of the online vote. That’s got to be special for you, right?
JG: It really is. Even back in the day, I told myself I was never going to play a sport that was judged by other people and awards like that are judged by other people. But when you can get the fan voting and the people who appreciate you and appreciate the hard work you put in, and acknowledge what I bring between the lines as well as off the field – I can’t thank my fans enough. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am right now without my fans. I tell guys all the time, “At one point, you were on the other side of the fence. At one point you went to a ballgame where you grew up and you wanted an autograph, you wanted a foul ball. So let’s not forget where we came from and our roots and what we’re able to do now.” It’s definitely an honor to get that award and definitely an honor for all the votes, so I’m definitely appreciative of it.
BOR: Tell me what it was like being a key component to the 2010 Reds team.
JG: It was awesome. Just from Jump Street, when I came over, to have that Cincinnati logo and that “Cincinnati” across my chest is an honor in and of itself. We’re talking the oldest organization in the sport and one of the oldest organizations in sports in general. So to be able to be part of history, daily, with the team is so special for me. Being a fan of the game and a student of the game, to have that “C” on my hat and the “Cincinnati” across my chest… just starting from that is pretty special. Just watching these guys grow – watching Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Drew Stubbs, Ryan Hanigan and Paul Janish – these core guys becoming big league ballplayers and evolve into superstars that we’re watching right in front of our eyes, is special. I couldn’t pick a better place and better fans to do all this in front of.
BOR: What’s your opinion on the future of this team? Is the core of this team ready to be a perennial division favorite?
JG: I think so. I played on two teams, two different divisions, and two different leagues. The first one, the American League East, which I still think is the toughest division in baseball. Then you go over to the NL Central, where it’s the only division with six teams and you could have a 4-game lead gone within a week. You could face 3 division (contenders) in 3 straight series, so it’s definitely a unique league. The guys we have, we made it to the playoffs by winning 91 games with guys just scratching the surface of what they’re going to become. You saw Drew Stubbs in center and stealing all of those bags, and Jay Bruce doing what he does, and I could go on and on; Joey Votto becoming the best player in the National League and maybe in all of baseball. So I’m definitely excited and love being a part of it. And on the other side, I’m glad I’m not anywhere else having to face these pitchers we have.
BOR: What are your thoughts on teammates Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo each winning Gold Gloves, and how important is defense to this team?
JG: That’s the pitchers’ best friend. I’ve never pitched in this game, nor will I ever, but it’s definitely a beautiful thing to see, day in and day out – good defense. If you can take the weight off the pitchers’ shoulders and just let them know that ground ball, fly ball, we’re out. If you get away from a guy and walk him, we’re a ground ball away from a double play. It’s the little things that got us to where we are. The defense and the base running took us to the next level and that’s not going to go anywhere. When you have those things, those things aren’t a fluke. We’re excited to bring those things back for 2011. There are a few other guys who are looking to grab gold for themselves. So it’ll be an interesting 2011.
BOR: I had the privilege of meeting your mentor and good friend Kevin Mitchell this year while we were in San Diego. How important has Mitch been to your professional career?
JG: It’s an interesting game we play. There are some guys out there who’ve had some success. There are guys out there who’ve won championships. There are some guys out there who are in the Hall of Fame. Their success and their work ethic and how they went about the game, works for them. It really doesn’t work for anyone else and sometimes they can’t really teach it. They’ll say, “It really isn’t the most ideal way, but it worked for me.” So it’s kind of unique to run into a guy who’s had success and who’s been there but yet is able to teach it and make it easy for you to learn – which I think is awesome with Dusty Baker. But Kevin Mitchell, I call him the “Hit Doctor” because he can really dissect your swing and know your slumps and is able to fix it. What’s good about him is he’s a phone call away for me. I can just talk to him and he’s a very positive guy. He’s a special guy.
BOR: As a former Red, is he excited for you to be here in Cincinnati?
JG: He’s very excited. He says I have to go and watch his highlights. But I tell him we have to go through the archives because he never played in the new ballpark and we joke that his footage is in black and white. But he’s excited for me being in Cincinnati, his old stomping grounds. And he’s tight with Dusty Baker, so he still has some roots in Cincinnati. And he’s definitely excited to see where this organization is going and that it’s looking up. It’s good to see he still pays attention and appreciates Cincinnati.
BOR: And the dude looks like he’s lost some significant weight and could lace ’em up again. Think we should ask Walt if we have a roster spot open?
JG: I tell guys all the time, when we go to Spring Training that I’m scared to death I’m going to lose my job to one of the coaches. We got Eric Davis out there; Tony Phillips was out there, Kevin Mitchell if he went out there…we got a bunch of coaches who are still capable of playing. But yeah, Kevin Mitchell is looking good. He’s not playing ball, but he’s golfing.
BOR: I heard through the grapevine that you gave your 4 of your best buddies quite an early Christmas present. Can you explain?
JG: Yeah, I grew up in the Bay area in Northern California as a Giants and A’s fan. I told my buddies if we’re not playing the Giants (in the Postseason) and the Giants make it to the World Series, I’ll take you guys to the games. So I got a little taste of watching a big league game from the stands and my buddies were pretty stoked about going. It made me hungry to get back to a World Series again. I’m starving to get back and I’ve got a great ball club to get there with. Going as a fan and as a player, I’m ready to get back as a player and take home one of those rings.
BOR: Finally, Jonny please tell everyone that you’re wearing your Reds robe around the house these days.
JG: That’s a no-brainer. I’ve got the red one and the white one, I mix it up. I’ve got two of them and that’s definitely my go-to in the offseason – the Reds robe.
BOR: I think one of the more popular photos on the blog after the clinch was the one of you in your robe and the big cigar and the goggles.
JG: You’re not partying unless you’re partying in a robe.
BOR: Jonny, thanks man for coming on. I really appreciate it. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Take care.
JG: Alright, absolutely. We’ll see you at Redsfest.