A View From Studio 3: 'Unbelievable' year for Gomes
New full-time catcher for Indians returns to hero's welcome in native Brazil
For Indians catcher Yan Gomes, the last few months have played out like a human highlight film.
"It's been an unbelievable year," he said. "It's been a huge blessing. I have so many people to thank for it."
So, where to start?
How about where Gomes got his start? Brazil. In December, Gomes returned to his native country for the first time in about 10 years. Oh, how things have changed in the last decade for the 26-year-old from Sao Paulo. He left his home country as a teenager. He returned as an idol to countless number of children.
"It definitely gives me more of a responsibility," he said. "Obviously I'm playing for the team and the organization, but I'm also playing for a whole country that's supporting me. I've got to be able to keep a level head. They're all watching. It's the way it should be."
A soccer-crazed country that continues to grow its baseball programs finally has a baseball model for a new generation of young athletes. As the first Brazilian-born player to reach the big leagues, Gomes was introduced to the kids at a youth baseball academy as a role model. A guy you can look up to. The high praise caught Gomes off guard.
"I'm sitting there thinking, 'Me? I'm the guy you look up to?'" he said. "It was extremely humbling."
The entire Gomes family experienced a wide range of emotions while in Brazil. It wasn't just a joyous reunion with family members, it was also a goodbye. After battling a lengthy illness, Yan's grandfather, Carlito, passed away. The Gomes clan was there by his side.
"It was a weird coincidence," Gomes said. "It was almost like he was waiting for us to be all there."
Gomes' parents made the trip. As did his wife, Jenna, making her first trip to Brazil. She got to see where it all started for Yan. On the dirt ball fields that are now covered with grass. The timing of the trip to explore Yan's past was perfect. The couple will have plenty of stories to share with their first child, a baby girl expected in early May.
The anticipation is the most exciting thing in his life right now. By the time he becomes a dad, Gomes will be about a month into the 2014 season. It will be his first season as full-time big league catcher.
Having taken over that role from Carlos Santana in the second half of 2013, the Indians were impressed. After witnessing Gomes' game-calling ability, strong arm and offensive contributions, manager Terry Francona anointed Gomes his starting backstop. And to top off his first campaign with Cleveland, the former Blue Jays utility man started behind the plate in the American League Wild Card playoff game at Progressive Field. The Indians lost to the Rays, but the experience was invaluable.
"The whole playoff atmosphere was unbelievable," he said. "Going to warm up, I've done that 100 times, but I was getting emotional going to warm up because how many people were there cheering."
Fast forward three months. Gomes and his team are ready for more. He's ready to take the next step and hopeful that he can catch 120 or 130 games in 2014. Gomes says the coaching staff, which includes pitching coach Mickey Calloway, bullpen coach Kevin Cash and former catcher Sandy Alomar, is in full support of his new role and excited about the possibilities. Gomes cites Alomar's influence as a big reason for his growth and success.
"He's got so much knowledge, he forgets more things than anyone here knows now," Gomes said. "Just those little things. He's been around baseball for so long you kind of forget those little things that happen in a game."
There's no way Gomes will forget the recent events in his life, and if health allows, the upcoming season may prove equally as memorable for him. If it's half as exciting as the previous few months, 2014 will be quite a ride.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.