The giant image of Jonny Gomes’s face hangs on a pillar in the Red Sox clubhouse like a real-time artifact from their run to the World Series.
It’s him in his celebration armor: a champagne-splashed war helmet and ski goggles.
It doesn’t show the Red Sox robe he was wearing.
It’s one of the funniest things Mike Napoli has seen from Gomes this season
“A robe and a helmet and goggles?” Napoli said, in a tone that asked, “who does that?”
But it’s the part of Gomes’s personality that so perfectly fits this team’s DNA.
“He’s pretty funny,” Napoli said.
Gomes’s muscle-flexing, batting helmet-punting, American flag-shorts-wearing persona has been the intangible “it” for a team that rose from last place in the AL East just a year ago to a World Series team for the third time in 10 years.
He is clutch despite not being an everyday player, brutally honest but highly thoughtful, and spontaneous but reliable.
In spring training, when he went with catcher David Ross on an airboat ride to hunt alligators, Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster figured they’d come back in one piece.
At least, he hoped.
“Him and Rossy went out gator hunting, tried to wrestle gators with their bare hands,” Dempster said. “I thought that was funny. I guess they were just trying to figure out where the team was destined right early in spring training. You know, if one of them lost an arm, we were going to have to go in a different direction.”
For Gomes, the adventure was a chance to check an item off his bucket list.
“When you go knock on the pearly gates, you better have a good résumé,” Gomes said.
On a team with enough personalities to fill up the ballpark — from impromptu emcee David Ortiz to undersized fireball Dustin Pedroia to Bob Marley-influenced Shane Victorino — Gomes is his own snowflake.
“The best way to describe it is that each one of our players has the ability to express themselves and their individuality and we do that inside of a team concept,” manager John Farrell said. “I know that’s kind of a delicate balance, but I think everyone is well aware of what our expectations are, and that includes our behavior. What’s accepted behavior. What’s not.
“At the same time, if we’re together every day for eight months, you better have the ability to laugh. Jonny, David, Pedey, Vic, everybody in their own way contributes to that.”
Even though he entered this season with only seven postseason at-bats, Gomes earned a reputation as a playoff whisperer, largely because of what he did for postseason teams such as the Reds in 2010 and the Athletics last season.
“He’s hilarious,” said Ross. “His attitude on a daily basis, it just cracks me up. It’s relentless and that’s kind of the attitude this team’s taken.
“Just a never-say-die, figure-out-a-way attitude. He’s got that attitude about it whether we’re going to dinner or we’re going to play putt-putt golf on the road or whatever. He’s just intense and loud and I think it’s hilarious. I love being around him. Makes me smile every day when I see him.”
What some might consider a skill — being bluntly honest at all times — comes naturally to Gomes.
“He’ll say anything at any time,” Ross said. “I think his wife said to my wife, ‘He doesn’t pet. He’s not going to pet.’ He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. If you don’t want to hear the truth, don’t ask Jonny.”
Chemistry was as important in the construction of this Sox team as talent, and since spring training the team has been able to walk the fine line between being too loose and too tight.
Part of it is perspective. The Boston Marathon bombings offered a heavy dose of it early in the season and the Sox rallied a city that holds them dear.
“We’re not curing cancer over here, man,” Dempster said. “We really aren’t. We’re not solving the economic crisis of the country. We’re out there playing baseball. We play a game and we don’t forget that we’re playing a game, and to laugh and to have fun and enjoy it.
“Especially when we’re not between the white lines, because there’s too much seriousness that goes on when you’re between the white lines, so away from the white lines, you’ve got to try to laugh and smile and have as much fun as you can.”
Part of it is a natural camaraderie.
“What I’ve seen this year is like no other,” Farrell said. “And that’s a cohesiveness that whether it goes back to the bombings that were one example to unite or galvanize to. But the number of team functions that this team will do impromptu is something I’ve never seen. Dinners of 20 to 24 guys going to dinner. Those things typically don’t happen in this day and age. And yet they happen fairly regularly here.”
Gomes said he was able to pop bottles in a bathrobe because he feels at home in the Sox clubhouse.
“It was like a birthday party or like a family reunion,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was celebrating with, you know, teammates. I was celebrating with family. And you know how you are at home, you’re a little more comfortable, you’re a little more outgoing, you’re a little more yourself. That’s tough to do in a clubhouse when you’ve got 25 alpha males, to just be yourself. It hasn’t been easy, but it seems like it has in this clubhouse for some reason.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.