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(“Remember Who You Are,” a collection of essays about ESPN baseball reporter Pedro Gomez, who died in February, will be released on Tuesday. By permission, the Globe is publishing an essay written by Rio Gomez, Pedro’s son and a minor-leaguer with the Red Sox’ Double A affiliate in Portland, Maine. Click here to visit the book’s website.)
My dad could be loud, real loud. We’d have friends over to the house and everyone would be shouting at the same time. For me as a kid sometimes it was a little embarrassing. I remember times when I’d be thinking, “Why are we always yelling? Why are we always so loud?” But when I think about it now, I’m thankful my dad was like that. I’m happy we were able to be that kind of family where we could be loud and upset and yelling at each other, because you know what? Five minutes later, we’d be over it. We were like, “OK, I’m upset at you. You’re upset at me. We’re just going to let it out right now and then we can move forward.” There was no way to bottle up feelings inside of us. We were able to just let it all blow over and be best friends again, talking and hanging.
My dad was never afraid of emotion. He didn’t hide from anything. He wasn’t the kind of dad who only got excited about me playing sports when it was going well. He was always there, for every up and down, especially the downs. There were a lot of downs. People tend to assume if you’re a professional baseball player, pitching in the Boston Red Sox farm system, you must have been a star at every level, all-state this, all-region that, always some accolade written next to your name. It was never like that for me. I was never the best player on any of my teams growing up, not in middle school, not in Little League and not in high school. I was never even one of the best ten. I was the guy scraping by year after year just to make a team.
My senior year of high school, I got cut from the varsity baseball team. I’ll never forget that day for the rest of my life. I didn’t call my parents. I was so shocked this was happening, I didn’t tell them anything, I just drove home from tryouts and parked on the street right in front of our house. I sat there and just cried and cried and cried and cried. I was eighteen and all I could think was: Wow, this is the last time I will ever play baseball.
I’d been out there awhile when the car door opened and my dad got in and sat down next to me. There were no words of encouragement or motivation. He had no words at all, he just listened. He was there to help me feel it all, and to just let it all out. We sat in that car together for well over an hour, maybe two, and I just bawled my eyes out the whole time, because I couldn’t believe that this was how my baseball career was going to end.
Not a single person believed in me then, except my dad. Not even another friend, or another teammate. Nobody. That was February of my senior year and from that day on he just started encouraging me and motivating me. Having my dad behind me like that carried me all the way through to the fall when I enrolled in junior college.
“This is not how your baseball career is going to end,” he told me. “There’s more to it and you need to figure that out for yourself.”
I was a walk-on at Mesa Community College, which meant I had to try out all fall before I found out if I’d made the team. Through all that, I still never got support from friends and other people you rely on. The only person who kept backing me was my dad. I can remember so many times that summer or fall when I was working out on my own, just trying to make the team, and I’d be ready to give up. I’d be thinking: This is just fool’s gold. I’m chasing after nothing. So many times, my dad was there to talk me off the ledge and to keep me pushing. He’d always tell me that the path to success is a lonely road, and he was right. I don’t think I ever felt that more than those six months.
Without my dad, I would never have played junior-college ball.
I would never have gone to the University of Arizona as a walk-on or gone to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, or played in the Cape Cod League. I would never have been drafted by the Red Sox in the thirty-sixth round of the 2017 MLB draft. None of this would ever have happened. It all would have ended at me being eighteen, cut from my varsity high school team. Through it all, my dad kept emphasizing the positive. When I was at Arizona, he told me, “No matter what, you’ve already reached a level that so few do. You’ve pitched in the Pac-12 Conference. That’s amazing.”
He was more nervous than I was every time I pitched. It was hilarious, to tell you the truth. He’d have to get up from his seat and walk around. If he couldn’t be there, he’d bug his friends for any information he could get. He was on pins and needles the first time I pitched in a spring-training game in Florida, on March 15, 2018, and hated that he couldn’t be there. “He has his first outing in a minor-league game today,” he emailed a friend. “As soon as I know, I’ll pass along.” Sure enough, a couple hours later he followed up: “Today’s outing (from someone who was at the game): He just finished. 1-2-3 inning. Looked good. F-9, 4-3, F-8. Faced two lefties, got ahead. Threw 12 or 13 pitches. Went well. Clean inning.”
I got left back in extended spring training that year. I didn’t break with a minor-league team, and I was really depressed. I kept questioning myself: Did I make the right decision to try and play professional baseball? Was this worth it? What am I doing with my life? I was so down, my dad got on a plane to come see me in Florida. He didn’t tell me, he just surprised me in Fort Myers. He could tell over the phone that nothing he could say would get me back on track. So he showed up in person and that really turned things around for me again. Any time I had to fight my own self-doubt, he was there to set me right.
We talked after every outing. All of college, all of summer ball, all pro ball, any time I pitched, the first thing I’d do afterward was find a way to talk to my dad. The second I got in the car, the second I just had a moment away, I would call him. Obviously he was following the games, watching if he could or listening on radio or finding play-by-play on the internet. He would know what happened, but we’d go through it pitch by pitch and play by play and break it all down. We’d talk about it all whether it was a good outing or a bad outing. It was basically: How can I illustrate a picture of what was going through my mind at every point during the game?
I’d been talking baseball with my dad my whole life so nothing felt more natural. Because of his work, I had access to insights others wouldn’t. When I was in grade school, I talked to Barry Zito during a spring-training game. I was a bat boy for the Giants that day, and Barry sat next to me on the bench for a few innings. I remember once when I was at a tournament in Irvine having a phone conversation with Nomar Garciaparra, who I’d met a couple times, about how to handle pressure in big situations.
One time, I asked my dad about the best grip for a changeup, and he decided to get advice from Greg Maddux, a future Hall of Famer. Here’s how he told the story once to a friend: “I spoke to Maddux at spring training in 2008 when he was with the Padres. I had to do an interview with him in Peoria at their facility, and after we were done I asked if I could get some advice for my son Rio, a lefty pitcher who was thirteen at the time. Maddux was known to have the best changeup in the game so why not ask about his grip so that I could show Rio how Maddux holds his? He gladly showed me his grip, which was to tightly hold the ball with his thumb and ring finger and let the other fingers softly drape over the ball. ‘Pedro,’ he said, ‘you find a grip you like and that’s the one you use!’”
My dad always had a great feel for what I needed to understand and what I needed to hear at a certain time. He had a knack for getting things across that I probably didn’t want to hear in the moment, but needed to be told. Some things you have to learn for yourself, the hard way, but with my dad around I didn’t always have to figure everything out through firsthand experience. He could give me a little bit of a heads up, like: Watch out for this. Then at the same time, he could just be my dad. So it was the perfect combination of everything I needed. He was there on the darkest days and also on the brightest days, like in Omaha when he was beaming proud and shaking uncontrollably and pacing back and forth and just a nervous wreck. It was great to have him for both ends of the spectrum.
That’s what was so great about having a dad with so much knowledge of the game and so much experience. When he told me that the game will always punch you right back in the mouth when you’re flying a little too high, I knew he was right. I also knew he was going through what I was going through. He didn’t want to put any pressure on me, but of course he’d have loved to see me pitch one day in a big-league game, preferably at Fenway Park. I would have to tell him, “Keep your fantasies to yourself.” He did a good job of riding the emotional roller-coaster for me so I wouldn’t.
My dad always tried to reiterate that baseball is all about the long game, it’s a long season and you’re not going to be judged off of one outing, you’re not even going to be judged off of one season, but a full body of work. When things were going well, he’d remind me not to ride it too high. When things turned bad, he’d be on me not to ride it too low. He taught me to humble myself before the game, because if I didn’t, the game would do that for me.
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