Marc Topkin had a nice feature on Jonny Gomes in yesterday’s Times.
My favorite part wasn’t all the compliments about what a great teammate Gomes was. Or the stories about the two big fights in 2008. The best quote came from JP Howell:
He started it — he started the freestyle. Just be free and easy, man, and go play. He was the ‘OG’ of the group, the original guy.
Forget the shifts. Forget the baserunning. Forget the safety squeezes. Forget player development. Forget the diamonds in the rough. If there is one thing that sets the 2008-present Rays apart from the rest of baseball, it’s the free-and-easy nature of the clubhouse. There is no pressure on this young team because they are having too much fun to worry about pressure. I mean, which other club had a fully-dressed Mariachi band playing live music in their clubhouse Saturday? Which other club would allow that after a loss?
Major League clubhouses are pretty regimented. If you lose, there is no music and there is no talking. If a reporter is around, you whisper to him. After all, you’re a pro, and a loss is supposed to hurt so much that you cannot stand the noise. It is a little ridiculous.
I remember thinking that was so stupid. When the D-Rays were losing 100 games, I couldn’t fathom how moping around every night was going to make everything better.
Looking back on Jonny Gomes, he brought life to a place of death. He went to team yoga in just his compression shorts. He created the Rayhawk. He wrestled after a game. He kept everyone loose and created the role of clubhouse cruise director (a role now apparently occupied by JP Howell who is in charge of the clubhouse radio).
Gomes is the guy you want with you in a casino. He’s the guy you want looking over your shoulder, taunting the dealer, while you ride a hot streak and take the house. His enthusiasm makes you better.
That is Gomes’ legacy in Tampa. (To a lesser extent, his legacy will also be partially based on the fact that he was The Mrs.’s first favorite Ray. She still wears her Jonny Gomes girl jersey t-shirt).
Gomes’ fun-loving attitude helped Maddon create a new kind of Major League clubhouse atmosphere. The Rays are a destination for ballplayers. Not because of the money they can offer (like the big boys). Not because of the history they have. But, because of the experience. They let big leaguers actually, you know, enjoy baseball again. That doesn’t just lead to a lot of wins. It also makes them incredibly fun to watch.