Vero Beach, FLORIDA – Carlos Gomez, star Milwaukee center fielder, is a classic study in contradictions.
At first blush, he appears to be an MLB troublemaker.
He has been at the center of numerous on-field confrontations as a result of his flamboyant bat-flipping and baserunning antics.
But, as MAS learned, in Carlos’ case looks can be deceiving.
Off the field, he is a totally different guy.
Allow MAS to expand on the mind-blowing Gomez dichotomy.
Recently, Carlos’ showboating ways triggered a bench-clearing brawl in Pittsburgh.
After clubbing a ball to deep center field, Gomez immediately broke into a stylish Cadillac (home run) trot — only to realize the ball was not leaving the yard.
He then turned on the jets and made it to third base — whereupon the Pirate pitcher castigated him for hot-dogging.
After which, all heck broke loose and punches were thrown.
Thus, when MAS approached Gomez recently in Miami for a chat, he anticipated Carlos displaying an almost defiant personality — reflective of his on-field persona.
What MAS got was the polar opposite.
Gomez was surprisingly shy and spoke in tones so hushed, that MAS strained to hear him and had to lean in, fearing accidentally eskimo nose-kissing Carlos.
Gomez patiently and politely answered all of MAS’ questions.
MAS kept waiting for the REAL, i.e. ball diamond, “CarGo” to surface at sometime in our conversation.
It never happened.
MAS had to check the nameplate above Gomez’ locker to make sure he had the right guy.
Somewhat, if not totally befuddled, MAS felt the need to delve further into Gomez’ Jekyll and Hyde-ness.
So, after we covered his team’s early success — the Brewers are the surprise National League Central leader, we got around to Gomez’s, um, flashy playing style.
“I’m always excited,” the 28- year-old Dominican explained. “It’s my dream to have this job, so I really like to enjoy playing the game.
“Every time I’m on my way to the ballpark, I’m excited — like a little kid.”
MAS then asked Carlos what he thought about some people feeling he is violating baseball’s unwritten rules regarding showing up foes by exercising his natural excitability.
“It is what it is,” answered Carlos, with a what-are-you-gonna-do shrug.
But, in actuality, Gomez seems to be seeking a proper baseball behavioral balance.
It’s just that the mischievous kid in Carlos sometimes slips out.
Here’s an example of his flip-flopping.
Earlier this season, Carlos’ caused another brouhaha with Atlanta over his fancy bat flip after clubbing a home run and then standing at home plate to admire the flight of the bleacher-bound ball.
But then, the very NEXT time he clouted a homer, Gomez simply put his head down immediately and SPRINTED around the bases full-speed.
But that was followed by his Pittsburgh gaffe.
And so it goes, back and forth.
But Carlos is not alone in his alternating displays of excessive exuberance and profound humility.
It appears a number of today’s younger stars are seeking to find the same happy celebratory center as well.
Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington’s Bryce Harper and Miami’s Jose Fernandez, among others, have also ruffled foes’ feathers with their diamond deportment.
They, too, seem to alternate between over-the-top baloney followed by acts of contrition for violating baseball’s morality rules in the first place.
Baseball more than any other North American sport, save for possibly ice hockey, abides by a long-standing belief in respecting the game and its traditions in one’s on-field actions.
And it ticks a bunch of people in the game off when players cross the accepted professional conduct line.
Some see MLB’s unwritten rules of etiquette — stretching back to the 19th century — as outdated or old-fashioned.
And in a way, they’re right.
Sure, MAS would like to see the often stone-faced baseballers lighten up.
But if it comes to choosing between their penitentiary faces or the sickening behavior that has grown to epidemic proportions in the NFL and NBA, MAS opts for the former, thank you.
He has seen in pro football and hoops, that if you give the modern athlete an inch, he’ll take a mile.
Witness the inane NFL celebrations nowadays after the most common of plays.
And the obnoxious chest-thumping, bellowing and posturing currently infecting the NBA.
All of which, sadly, trickles down to the amateur levels of those sports.
MAS doesn’t want to see that happen to MLB and baseball.
That’s why he’s OK with big leaguers policing their own — archaic rules or no.
Thus, while MAS has learned to respect Carlos Gomez the person and admires his talent, he doesn’t always approve of CarGo the ballplayer’s schtick.
But no matter which side of the behavioral fence you are on, one can’t help but be impressed by Gomez’ success.
Here’s a guy who is blossoming into a huge star (he’s currently batting .310 — ninth in the NL —and has 13 HRs and 44 RBIs) by finally playing the type of game, flamboyance aside, that matches his skill set.
Always a crack center fielder, both the New York Mets and Minnesota tried to make him a slap hitter who uses his speed to beat out infield hits.
Milwaukee, which acquired Gomez in a trade with Minny, realized you don’t do that to a five-tool player, one capable of hitting for power.
Several big seasons with Milwaukee have earned Gomez his current four-year, $28.3 million Brewer deal.
But, believe it or not, as excited as Carlos gets, he says that alone doesn’t always ensure success on a given day.
“Sometimes you feel you can do everything and that day is the worst for you,” explained Gomez.
“And sometimes you feel weak, tired, sore and you come out and perform well — get a couple of hits and RBIs.
“Baseball is like that — every day is a challenge.”
Carlos would then prove prophetic.
That afternoon, he was worried about rust after missing five games due to a back strain and a suspension for the Pittsburgh incident.
Gomez then went out and larruped four hits, including three ringing doubles, driving in two runs.
And, best of all, he was well-behaved — no histrionics, only hustle.
“Must have been all the good Cuban coffee I had before the game,” Gomez good-naturedly offered afterward.
On this night at least, there was nothing contradictory about Carlos Gomez.
One can only hope that someday he ceases being a case study.
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