Road to the Show: Yan Gomes
From Brazil to the big leagues, Gomes excited to be in Cleveland
By Jim Berdysz
June 24, 2013
Indians catcher Yan Gomes sat at his locker and finished a cup of beet juice before taking batting practice.
You wouldn’t know he's a rookie by speaking with him, let alone from another country.
Acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season along with infielder Mike Aviles, Gomes has burst on the scene rather quickly with the Tribe in what has become his first full season in the big leagues.
But before he came to Cleveland, before he stepped foot in a major league ballpark, he called the South American country of Brazil, home.
Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Gomes is the first Brazilian-born player in MLB history.
“It’s a great honor representing such a big country,” Gomes said. “I mean to represent it the best that I can, especially a country that has been known for their athletics and soccer.”
Growing up in the fifth largest populated country in the world, Gomes was introduced to the game of baseball in his homeland at a very young age.
“I think I was around six or seven years old when I started playing,” he said. “It just randomly happened. My dad met a guy at a market and he told me to go out there and try it out. I fell in love ever since.”
Both his parents influenced him to play growing up, especially his father who played and coached tennis. “My dad introduced me to a professional lifestyle of sports,” Gomes said. “Things like how to work hard which has turned out good for me.”
Six years later at 12 years old, the catcher would find himself on arguably the most uncertain experience of his life when moving to the United States with his family.
“It was kind of scary, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into” Gomes said. “What made the transition a little easier was my uncle lived out here, so we knew a familiar face, but it was kind of scary especially going to school and not speaking a lick of English. We stuck together as a good family would and got comfortable with everything.”
Once in the States, Gomes attended Miami Southridge High School in Miami, Florida where he played baseball before going to the University of Tennessee after graduating. He was named an NCAA Division I Freshman All-American after just one season as a player for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Two years into his collegiate career, Gomes was drafted in the 39th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox, but would not sign. Instead, he would leave Tennessee to move back to Miami and play for the private Catholic school, Barry University.
The move would pay off greatly as Gomes would officially become a professional ballplayer just one year later. This time he was taken by the Blue Jays in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB draft, having signed with them after being named All-South player of the year after his junior season.
He would serve the better part of three years in the Toronto minor league system and play in only 37 games at Triple-A Las Vegas before getting his chance to play in the majors.
It was just last year on May 17, 2012 that Gomes dreams became a reality, getting his first call up to the show with Toronto against the New York Yankees.
“It was incredible,” Gomes said. “A dream come true type of thing especially against the Yankees. That’s really the only team you know about in Brazil.”
He made a quick name for himself in his debut, going 2-for-3 in the ballgame and getting his first career hit off Yankees starter Phil Hughes.
“It was an unbelievable moment, and I thank the guys in Toronto for that,” Gomes said. “They made it an easy transition to the big leagues for me. I wish I could have slowed it down a little more, but it was awesome.”
In 43 games last season with the Blue Jays, Gomes hit .204 with four homers and 13 RBI in his first 98 at-bats. His numbers may have not stood out with the rest, but the right-handed hitting slugger still boasted high potential both offensively and defensively.
That same potential was exactly what the Indians saw in Gomes when trading for him and Aviles prior to the Winter Meetings this past November.
Coming into spring training without a guaranteed spot to make the major league roster, Gomes worked hard in the off-season playing for his native country of Brazil in the World Baseball Classic qualifying games.
“The last time I played with them was when I was 11 or 12 in Brazil,” he said. “It was great because I still knew a couple of guys that were still on the team. We made a huge step forward in the WBC and growing baseball in Brazil as well.”
Gomes went 4-for-12 (.333) with two RBI in three games to qualify Brazil to their first ever appearance in the World Baseball Classic.
Although he wouldn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training, Gomes was called up to Cleveland one week into the 2013 after catcher Lou Marson went on the disabled list.
Just like he did with Toronto, the 25 year old made his presence known in Cleveland quickly, belting his first hit as a member of the Indians over the wall in center field at Progressive Field for a home run on April 13.
About one month later, Gomes would notch on the biggest hit of his life, connecting on a game-winning three-run homer against the Seattle Mariners on May 20.
Through 32 games in his first season with the Tribe, the Brazilian slugger is hitting .257 with four doubles, two triples, six home runs and 18 RBI in 105 at-bats. With runners in scoring postion, Gomes has flourished hitting .304 with three doubles, a homer and 11 RBI.
The rookie has also put up far better numbers than starting catcher Carlos Santana behind the plate, throwing out nine of 16 baserunners attempting to steal.
"He's pretty eager to take in everything," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "We saw that in spring training. Even with a lack of catching a lot, he understands that his job is getting pitchers through the game. He's getting better fast, and it's exciting."
His eagerness and early production on the field has even earned him the nickname "The Yanimal" from Indians fans.
Spending all but three of his 246 innings this year behind the plate, Gomes can also play first or third base having played more than 50 innings at each position with Toronto in 2012.
"Last year I really felt comfortable at first and third, but mainly my position now is catching," Gomes said. "Especially here they want me to catch, but I still mess around at first or third sometimes."
Besides receiving advice from his family and teammates, Gomes has gotten advice from a notable former big league All-Star. Getting married to his wife Jenna Hammaker this past offseason, his wife is the daughter of former left-handed All-Star reliever, Atlee Hammaker.
“The last couple of years we’ve gotten really close,” Gomes said of Hammaker. “It’s pretty cool. He’s been an unbelievable help with me just to talk about what he went through and all his failures. His main thing is just enjoy what you have now cause once you’re out of it, you wish you could have enjoyed it more.”
Hammaker played 15 years in the majors mainly with the San Francisco Giants and represented the National League in the 1983 All-Star game.
While an All-Star appearance could come someday in his career, Gomes is just happy to be producing on baseball’s biggest stage.
“I don’t want to say I see myself being a starting guy or anything one year from now,” he said. “I just would like to establish myself as a big league player and keep growing and learning from the guys here that have a lot of years in the big leagues.”
For now, the beat goes on, as Gomes hopes to learn to slow the game down, taking his opportunity to play in the major leagues day by day.
His road to the show may have taken him to a new country, but there's no question Gomes is excited to have a chance to build on what has already been, an historic start to his major league career.
I know Cleveland fans are happy to have him on their side too.
Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being a Brazilian and have a Brazilian player playing for the Tribe is priceless, besides all that, I’m a Clevelander and I liked the way the front office went through for Gomes. I can see him next year or a year after our everyday catcher. He has all tolls to successes in this position. I just think he has to improve his swing in high balls besides I know it will come with the time playing.
Nice article, congrats!
I am a Gomes fan and I expect him to be the everyday catcher soon.
I think Gomes has the potential to be another Sandy Alomar Jr.
What do you think?
Is he the next Kelly Shoppach or the next Indians every day catcher? You have to love the way he shuts down the running game. And he's much better than Santana at blocking pitches in the dirt.