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Spring training is a time for baseball reunions. Long-retired stars return to camp to visit. Today’s teammates trade tales from their winter vacations.
It’s been a long time since the Braves were a familiar team in Boston, so most of the Atlanta players stepping up to the plate Tuesday at JetBlue Park didn’t get much of a reaction.
But, the Fenway South Faithful let one visitor know he has not been forgotten.
As Jonny Gomes was introduced, more than a few fans were on their feet to give the former Boston outfielder a warm, loud welcome.
"[Gomes] was a leader even though he wasn’t an everyday player. ... He always had a flair for saying the right thing at the right time."John Farrell, Red Sox manager
In 2013, Gomes joined a Red Sox team that had nowhere to go but up. Boston was coming off a last-place finish. Gomes was one of several players brought in to improve the team's performance and chemistry.
It was also John Farrell’s first year as manager, and he remembers how Gomes contributed in the clubhouse.
“A student of the game, first and foremost. Knows himself as a player and knows his role. He was a leader even though he wasn’t an everyday player," Farrell said. "He made others around him believe in themselves even more so. He always had a flair for saying the right thing at the right time.”
Farrell also remembers a game that year when he was debating about whether to use Gomes as a pinch hitter.
“It was one of those situations where, 'I don’t know if,' so talking about the situation the inning beforehand [Gomes] said, ‘You want to win, don’t ya?’ Damn if he doesn’t hit the game winner the next inning,” Farrell said, laughing.
Gomes stayed with the Red Sox for just a season and a half. The Braves are his sixth big league team in 13 years. And for him, Boston’s 2013 turnaround from last place to World Series champions stands out.
“To have firsthand what it truly does mean to win the whole thing, once I got a piece of that pie, I guess you don’t know how good a filet mignon is unless you’ve had one," Gomes said Tuesday. "I’ve had one. Now, I’ve got a pretty rich appetite.”
Gomes hadn't seen his old Red Sox teammates since being traded in the middle of last season, so instead of riding the team bus from the Braves’ spring training facility, he made the three-hour drive in his own car. He had plans to stick around after the game, have dinner and talk about old times.
“There’s only one anniversary in this game and that’s the anniversary of a world title," he said. "There’s no anniversaries of who signed the biggest contract. There’s no anniversaries of who won fifth, sixth, seventh Gold Glove this year. So, to have that mark in history, obviously forms a tighter bond.”
But for all the on-field drama of 2013, Gomes’ memories of that season are also tied to the Boston Marathon bombing in April of that year. That fall, when the Red Sox duck boat parade reached Boylston Street, it was Gomes who made the team’s symbolic gesture. He says he thinks of the bombing often.
“It was a culture change. It was a life change. And then we just were able to set that World Series trophy within feet of where the explosion was," he said. "And I think it would have been just as powerful eight, 10 years from now. But man, just to speed up history and speed up the recovery was pretty remarkable.”
And Jonny Gomes holds onto a lesson he learned in Boston that year: don’t take things for granted.
This segment aired on March 18, 2015.
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