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Carlos Gomez is everything that’s right about baseball

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Beyond analytics, Gomez can teach us something about this sport we love

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

From a purely statistical point of view, Rays right fielder Carlos Gomez does not deserve much attention this season. One might write a post wondering what happened to the Gomez of 2013 and 2014, or ask what went right during his 33-game stint in Texas with the Rangers and how we might duplicate it — but Gomez has more to offer us than just his numbers.

Carlos Gomez is everything that’s right about baseball.

It’s hard to imagine a player who has been more captivating, entertaining, and watchable this season for the Rays than Gomez, and that’s really saying something considering the year they’ve had. In the midst of Sergio Romo playing the opener, blockbuster trades, and young upstarts like Jake Bauers and Willy Adames vying for the spotlight, it’s Gomez my eyes keep going back to.

Gomez is the one at the top of the dugout stairs, a huge grin plastered on his face, waiting for one of his teammates to hit in a game-winning run. Gomez is the one sniffing his bat before swings, or taking a hit by pitch and pretending to literally die.

During Thursday night’s game against the Royals, all of Gomez’s multitude of antics were on display. He lost his bat during a swing and went to get it himself, then gave it a sniff as if to confirm it still belonged to him. He made a ridiculous tumbling catch in right field, then bounced to his feet and showed off the ball before taking a swaggy strut back to his place on the field.

Gomez plays with an abandon you rarely see outside of ten-year-old kids taking hacks in rec league. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, and it’s something that is sorely lacking in baseball today. He often plays purely to impress his son.

In a game where we’re always told “play the right way” where the “right way” means stoic grimness and a lack of joy, I think perhaps there’s something we can learn from playing the Carlos Gomez way.

And there’s something we can learn as viewers in how we understand difficult players. When the announcement of the Gomez signing came out, more than one writer on staff was hesitant to celebrate, worried about his notoriety as a difficult player, and wondering what that kind of attitude might bring to the team. Would he be hard to coach? Would his behavior be an issue?

Instead Gomez gets to the club every day with a huge smile on his face. He wears t-shirts with his teammates faces on them, as he recently did with a Snellzilla shirt in the clubhouse during an interview (in a Willy Adames Instagram story). He is, even in his low moments, a player who will never hide what he’s feeling. He’ll break bats over his knee, he’ll destroy a water cooler, he’ll loudly complain to himself every time he strikes out, looking like a madman as he walks back to the dugout muttering.

With Carlos Gomez there is no pretense. There is merely a what-you-see-is-what-you-get player who takes the field every day and gives it his all. And it doesn’t matter that his “all” is a .217/.310/.351 slash and a wRC+ of 87. There is value beyond the stat sheet for a guy like Gomez. Call it clubhouse leadership. Call it bravado. Call it “a bit much” sometimes, if you want to.

For my money, baseball could use a little more Carlos Gomez, and a little less stoicism.