Hometown boy in Big Leagues remembers roots

Erik Jorgensen, Staff Writer

The word “hero” gets overused so often it hardly means anything. Heroism is not just a one-time action, but a way of life. Few people walk the walk of true heroism more than Santa Rosa Junior College’s most successful baseball player, Jonny Gomes.

Before winning this year’s World Series playing for the Boston Red Sox, Petaluma native Gomes played baseball for Santa Rosa Junior College until getting drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2001. Gomes also played for the Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals before returning home to play for the Oakland A’s for the 2012 season. In his very first World Series appearance, his three-run homer won Game Four against the St. Louis Cardinals and helped the Red Sox win the series.

Gomes is known for inspiring the best from his teammates, both on and off the field. He donates money and equipment to various charities, and paid to rebuild Casa Grande’s baseball field house – twice – after arsonists burned it down in 2006. Gomes demonstrates his generosity of spirit by taking time for an interview with SRJC’s Oak Leaf earlier this year, shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing:

Oak Leaf: So, can you tell me a little bit about playing at SRJC and what it was like when you were finally drafted?

Jonny Gomes: Gotcha. I tell you what, I was very grateful to have drawn two coaches, Ron Myers and Damon Niedlinger. To this day, in the Big Leagues, about ten years later, I’m doing the same drills I learned there, and I’m really, really lucky as a player to meet both those guys; true geniuses of coaching the game. And we weren’t that good, at all, to tell you the truth, but those two coaches really got the max out of everyone’s talents, and I think we played a little bit over our skills just because of those coaches.

OL: I understand you have the ‘707’ [area code] put on your gear; that’s actually done in the factory?

JG: That’s right.

OL: Can you talk a little about that?

JG: Well, it’s just a little tribute, if you will, to sticking to my roots and remembering where I’m from, and at the same time there are charities at whatnot back at home, and I’m able to donate that equipment and auction it off.

OL: That brings another question: when Casa Grande’s field house got burned down twice in 2006, did you take that personally?

JG: No. No, I didn’t take it personal by any means; probably just some jackass, you know, just trying to burn it down. I mean, if he had made it more personal, I don’t know, with some personal… something.  But it was probably just some punk looking for something to do.

OL: I understand that you’ve been batting with the names of the Boston Marathon victims on your bat.

JG: Yeah, I just did it for one game, just two at-bats. I had two bats made, and I used it my first at-bat and then used it my second at-bat and then gave them to the team and let them auction it off for The One Fund, and I think they sold yesterday.

OL: I have a couple friends, Drew and Tony, who always get season tickets with the [Oakland] A’s. So last year, when you were playing with the A’s… They both grew up in Santa Rosa, now seeing a local boy in the big leagues. So as a player, how is it having fans from your hometown watching your team?

JG: Well, I think that pretty much comes with the invite with playing in your hometown, or near your hometown. But growing up a die-hard A’s fan, obviously when they won the World Series in ’89 and then lost in ’90, really set off my love for the game of baseball, and it’s just a complete honor to be able to wear that uniform.

OL: Did you have a favorite baseball player growing up?

JG: Ah, I just had a favorite team – and that was the A’s.

OL: Oh, great! Now, when you were at SRJC, did you have any favorite teacher or classes?

JG: No. Baseball.

OL: Well, I don’t really have any other questions – I wasn’t expecting a lot of time with you. Do have anything you’d like to say to the JC students?

JG: No, just that I was very grateful to attend that college, and it holds a lot in my memories, and being able to travel the country now helps me understand it’s one of the nicest campuses around.

OL: Well, I really appreciate your time I’m going to try to see you next time you play in town, and hopefully interview you on camera if you have time.

JG: All right, chief.

OL: Have a great game.

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SRJC baseball coach Damon Niedlinger also took the time to answer a few questions about Gomes:

Oak Leaf: What are your impressions of Gomes from his SRJC days?

Coach Niedlinger: Jonny Gomes improved as much as any player from his freshman to sophomore years.  He was a very hard worker that overcame a lot of challenges off the field.

OL: Is Gomes a credit to the SRJC athletics department?

CN: Absolutely, Jonny has been a strong supporter of the SRJC program as well as his hometown of Petaluma.  He is a very generous man with his time and his resources.

OL: What are your impressions of Gomes’ professional career?

CN: Great teammate.  Jonny is associated with winning and the importance of having unselfish guys in the clubhouse.  He always stays ready to play and truly wants his teammates to have success.

OL: Can you comment on Gomes’ charity work – like helping rebuild Bob Leslie Field at Casa Grande High School?

CN: As I spoke about above.  Jonny is a very generous man that demonstrates that he remembers where he came from.  From helping rebuild Bob Leslie Field to the all the support/awareness he raised for the Petaluma Little Leagues and the support of their families to be able to see there kids play. Jonny is consistently one of the guys that is always at the top of the list when the professional team he is with recognizes charity/community outreach work.

When Jonny was with the Reds & A’s he was always terrific to the kids of friends and past coaches.  I was at a game one time and he brought my son down on the field during batting practice to meet Dusty Baker and gave him a bat and some batting gloves.  What makes Jonny special is that it is very genuine and he makes the kids feel special.

The Oak Leaf would like to thank Abby DeCiccio, Red Sox Media Relations Specialist, for setting up this interview, and would also like to thank Jonny Gomes for being such an inspirational sports hero, both on and off the field.