Major League Baseball makes all of the All-Star players available to the media the day before the game. The visiting team roster goes first then the home team after a brief break.
In Cleveland last summer, ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez pulled out his phone between sessions and went to the MILB.com television app to watch the end of a game between Single A Salem and Wilmington.
As several hundred colleagues milled around the lobby of a convention center, Gomez found a quiet spot and began to sweat.
His son, Rio Gomez, was pitching for Salem. The lefthander worked a scoreless seventh inning to get the save in the first game of a doubleheader.
Pedro Gomez has covered baseball since 1989, starting his career in newspapers before going to ESPN in 2003. He’s asked tough questions to Barry Bonds, covered assorted controversies, and worked dozens of World Series games. None of it compares to watching his son pitch, even from 450 miles away on a small screen.
“I’m a mess,” Gomez said. “A 2-0 count is the end of the world for me. It’s hard for me to watch when he’s on the mound. I pace around. Any little thing — an error, a pitch up in the zone, is nerve-racking.”
Said Rio: “Honestly, it’s hilarious. When I was pitching in college he couldn’t stay in his seat. He’d be on the concourse.”
Rio Gomez, 25, is an unlikely prospect. He was cut from his high school team in Arizona as a senior then made the team at Mesa Community College as a walk-on. That led to three seasons at the University of Arizona and the Red Sox taking him in the 36th round of the 2017 draft.
Gomez has a 2.35 earned run average in 73 professional games and averaged 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. There’s a chance he could get to Double A Portland in the coming season.
Gomez also is on the radar to be among the minor league pitchers the Sox will use to supplement the roster for spring training games.
Of the 32 draft picks the Sox signed in 2017, 14 already have been released. Gomez has managed to defy long odds.
Not bad for a player who didn’t think he had any shot at pro ball until 2016, when he helped Arizona advance to the College World Series.
“That’s when my mentality changed,” Gomez said. “I played in the Cape Cod League [for Cotuit] that summer and had some success and had a great fall at U of A. I saw I could stack up against some good hitters.”
Gomez was ready to quit baseball after high school. But his father encouraged him to keep trying.
“He believed in me more than I believed in myself,” Gomez said. “He never gave up on me being able to play. That led to where I am now.”
Baseball is loaded with stories of late-round draft picks who made their way to the majors. Pitchers, especially lefties, always get that second look.
“There are outliers,” Pedro Gomez said. “I’ve seen him improve. He has good makeup and is a hard worker. He’s always doing something to get better that day.
“He’s a cerebral guy, too. He tinkers with what he’s doing — sometimes to his detriment — but he always wants to get better. He understands that’s his job as a professional.”
Rio Gomez averages only 89-90 miles per hour with his fastball. But the pitch has good vertical movement and he’s not afraid to attack hitters in the upper quadrants of the strike zone. He also has a good changeup that helps him against righthanded hitters.
Gomez has used data from Rapsodo, TrackMan, and other devices to improve how he shapes his pitches.
“It helps me understand my strengths and who I am as a pitcher,” Gomez said. “I’m not trying to become a different pitcher. I don’t have the same tools as everyone else.
“I need to know how my fastball works and how to throw it. The analytics help me understand who I am.”
As the Sox get more data-driven, Gomez could find a role. That he can handle righthanders certainly helps.
“It was always ingrained in my mind from coaches, pound the bottom of the zone. Now I’ve learned that’s not what’s best for me,” he said. “I want all the information I can get.”
That goes back a long way thanks to his father. Rio was a batboy for the Athletics and Giants during a few spring training games when he was in grade school and once sat on the dugout bench chatting up Barry Zito about pitching.
When the All-Star Game was in Arizona in 2011, David Price gave 16-year-old Rio one of his gloves to use.
“Things like that mean so much,” Rio said. “I once had a good conversation with Nomar [Garciaparra] about what hitters look for. I’ve always been around baseball because of my dad.
“I’ve never felt intimidated by the atmosphere in the clubhouse and I wasn’t starstruck the first time I went to Fort Myers for spring training. That has helped me a lot.”
Once Rio started playing for Arizona, Pedro and his wife, Sandi, would regularly make the 100-mile trip for weekend home series.
“If I was a hockey guy, he probably would have played hockey. But baseball has been part of our family since he was born,” said Pedro Gomez, who has another son and a daughter. “I have no doubt that my being immersed in baseball helped him being immersed in baseball.”
That Rio was drafted was an accomplishment on its own.
“I fully realized how hard that was,” Pedro Gomez said. “Only 1,200 players are drafted and when you consider how many players there are in high school, JUCO, NAIA, and Division 1, 2, and 3, you know how difficult it is.
“When we heard his name called, it was such a thrill. Especially when it was by a team like the Red Sox, an iconic franchise. They’re one of the heavyweights.”
As MLB considers a plan to cut the draft to 20 rounds and trim the number of minor league teams, players such as Rio Gomez could get lost.
Gomez graduated from Arizona with a degree in environmental economics. If his only alternative was an independent league, baseball might have become a weekend hobby. But when the Sox gave him a chance, he jumped at it.
“I see both sides of the issue. I understand why they would to do it,” Rio Gomez said. “But it would be taking away dreams from kids who want a chance.”
The Gomez family once took a summer vacation trip to New England that included a stop at Fenway Park. Rio has since been to the park a few other times, but always in the stands.
“Such a special place,” he said. “I want to pitch under those lights. That’s all I ever need in life.”
Deadline could be telling for Betts
Friday is the deadline for teams to sign their arbitration-eligible players before salary proposals are submitted. The Red Sox have yet to sign Matt Barnes, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Heath Hembree, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brandon Workman.
Based on projections done by MLB Trade Rumors, those seven players will cost the Sox $23.5 million more than they did last season.
Keep an eye on how the Sox handle Betts.
A year ago, Betts landed $20 million, the largest contract for a player in his second year of arbitration. No muss, no fuss. The Sox stepped up and paid him.
Betts is projected for $27.7 million this season, a figure that could be light.
Nolan Arenado has the record for a player in his third year of arbitration. He agreed with the Rockies at $26 million last Jan 31. A few weeks later, the sides added seven years and $234 million to the deal, locking up Arenado through 2026.
If the Sox sign Betts ahead of Friday’s deadline, it’s a positive sign that further conversations could be held. It seems unlikely Betts would agree to a long-term deal before getting to free agency. But at least there would be some hope.
If not, the sides will go to an arbitration hearing. The Sox, like many other clubs, have a “file-and-go” policy to end negotiations after the deadline and wait for a hearing. Those hearings, by nature, are contentious and the players are required to attend.
The last thing the Sox should want to do is fight with Betts over what his salary will be for the coming season and risk the consequences. They should just trade him at that point. But within Fenway, the belief is a deal will be reached by Friday.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ The Arizona Diamondbacks have had an active offseason, adding Madison Bumgarner, Kole Calhoun, and Stephen Vogt. Can’t help but wonder if Jackie Bradley Jr. would be a good fit.
Arizona needs a center fielder, although not another lefthanded hitter. Ketel Marte, who started 89 games in center field last season, could shift to second base. If Bradley were in center, Marte could replace him against lefthanded starters.
Bradley and Calhoun would be a terrific defensive combination. The Diamondbacks also appear to have the salary space to afford Bradley.
■ The Red Sox designated Sam Travis for assignment this past week. Earlier this offseason, they released righthander Jake Cosart.
Travis was a second-round pick in 2014 and Cosart was taken in the third round.
Michael Kopech (Chris Sale) and Jalen Beeks (Nathan Eovaldi) were useful trade pieces. But beyond that, the only player left from that draft with a reasonable chance to help the team is Michael Chavis.
It’s not atypical. Since 2012, Benintendi and Brian Johnson are the only Red Sox draft signees with more than 1.0 WAR in the majors, and Johnson was outrighted to Triple A in November.
Yes, the Sox have some well-regarded prospects in their system now that came via the draft, Bobby Dalbec and Triston Casas in particular. But improving that process is a priority for Chaim Bloom.
■ Hector Velazquez, a valuable player in 2018, had a 5.43 ERA last season and was 1-3 with a 6.95 ERA in eight starts. After skipping winter ball in Mexico last year, he returned this season and has pitched well so far for Navojoa.
Velazquez said last summer that while he needed the rest, he didn’t feel as sharp coming into the season. He had pitched in winter ball eight years in a row.
Velazquez returning to the form he showed in ’18 would be a big boost for the Sox. He can pitch in a variety of roles.
■ The Red Sox purchased the contract of 27-year-old outfielder Colin Willis in October after he had a .935 OPS in 95 games for Gary in the independent American Association.
Willis wasn’t drafted out of Division 2 Purdue North Central but had an .878 OPS for Gary over four seasons. He’s playing in Australia this winter and through 19 games was 21 of 48 with eight RBIs.
Willis will compete for a spot in Double A or Triple A with the Sox.
■ Ted Lepcio, who played for the Sox from 1952-59, died last month at the age of 90. He was a longtime resident of Dedham after retiring from playing.
Looking back on life of Larsen
Don Larsen, who died Wednesday, made history with his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series.
But did you know the Yankees obtained Larsen on Nov. 17, 1954, as part of a 17-player trade? Yes, 17.
Larsen had 33 losses in his first two seasons in the majors. Then he was one of seven Orioles swapped for 10 Yankees. It remains the largest deal in baseball history.
One of the players the Yankees landed in that trade was catcher Darrell Johnson, who managed the Red Sox from 1974-76. They also received righthander Bob Turley, who won the Cy Young Award in 1958 and was MVP of the World Series that season.
Larsen was 45-24 with a 3.50 ERA in five seasons for the Yankees. He also had a 2.67 ERA in seven World Series games and picked up two rings.
The Yankees traded Larsen to the Kansas City Athletics after the 1959 season, part of a seven-player deal that sent Roger Maris to the Bronx.
Larsen was 81-91 with a 3.78 ERA in 14 seasons with seven teams and had five seasons when he walked more than he struck out. He also was traded six times and had a well-deserved reputation for enjoying the nightlife.
Larsen treasured attending Old Timers’ Day with the Yankees over the years and was always a fun guy to talk to. He knew how improbable it was that he pitched a perfect game in the World Series, which made it all the better as far as he was concerned.
The Blue Jays plan to start Travis Shaw at first base. He’ll join third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., shortstop Bo Bichette, and second baseman Cavan Biggio on the infield. All four are sons of major league All-Stars. “That’s incredible,” Shaw told reporters in Toronto. “It’s pretty cool looking at that infield and seeing all second-generation major league players.” Jeff Shaw, Travis’s father, pitched in the majors from 1990-2001. Toronto has improved its rotation and lineup but the outfield needs work to end a streak of three seasons in fourth place . . . Happy 30th birthday to Jose Iglesias. He was supposed to be the Red Sox’ shortstop of the future after being signed out of Cuba in 2009 but was traded to the Tigers in 2013 as part of the three-team deal that returned Jake Peavy. Iglesias was a treat to watch in spring training. He fielded grounders between his legs and could throw to bases behind his back with ease. But a career .315 on-base percentage has limited the impact of his career. Iglesias is a free agent.