Carlos Gomez is not well liked by Pirates fans, but the Brewers center fielder told me today that in a strange way they actually like him, precisely because they can root against him.
"The fans come to enjoy crazy stuff and, probably, if I'm not here, they don't enjoy the game," Gomez said. "A lot of fans come just to scream at me. And that makes me [feel] good, because I know I'm good and they come to see me because I'm good. Because if I'm not good they [wouldn't] care about me."
"So in a way, they kind of like you because they can root against you?" I asked.
"Yes," he said with wide smile.
The Pirates fan base also probably views no other team as more of a rival than the Brewers, and the fans who will be attending this weekend series are certainly relishing the opportunity to see them all but eliminated the from the Wild Card race. This, too, Gomez understands.
"That makes it interesting," he said with a knowing nod and a grin. "I mean, the last three years the Pirates turned it around and are one of the best teams in baseball. They have really good players and they're young. They always play hard. You look into the past, we always beat the Pirates. Now, it's hard to beat them. All the fans remember the past and are like, 'We have to beat them!'"
The Brewers enter this series pretty much needing to sweep the Pirates to stay in the hunt but, predictably, Gomez says the club is not looking beyond tonight.
"I mean, we need to win today," he said. "That is more important. We know we are going to face a good team. A team that is very hot at the moment. So it is going to be very interesting."
Whatever one may think about Gomez, he plays the game with great intensity. For that reason, I've never fully understood the anger he seems to elicit. I think, in part, my feelings have to do with the fact that when I was a kid I remember listening to adults complain about players that didn't seem to care. That was the worst accusation they could make. "He only plays for money, he doesn't hustle, the Tigers should trade him," was something I heard over and over. (By the way, I'm sure that they were often wrong in their assessments and confused poor performance with not caring.) So when a player does clearly enjoy playing the game and plays it with competitive passion, I tend to like that guy.
When I asked Gomez how he likes his job, and how he feels to be able play baseball for a living, he gave exactly the kind of response that would have made him a favorite with my little league coaches and neighbors.
"I don't love baseball like a job," he said. "If you look at baseball like a job, you're not going to be a success. You're not going to be as good as you can be. Every time I come here, all the stress is gone. You know, I'm in love. When I'm on the field doing the stuff that I have passion and love for, I'm fine. I had a really hard start to my career and now all I want to do is play every day. So, last couple years I've been playing every day and I'm the happiest man in the world."
After I talked to Gomez, I asked a Brewers beat writer about working with Gomez on a day-to-day basis, and whether the impression I had of him a guy that simply plays with a tremendous amount of passion was correct. The writer could not have had a more positive view of Gomez. He said that everything about him is authentic. He simply loves to play and compete. He is exactly the kind of guy that fans and players love if he is on your team, and, if not, well, then he's pretty easy to dislike. Which, as Gomez said, is okay, because it means he is good.