A funny thing happened during a recent early afternoon visit to Turner Field in Atlanta. Not the kind of funny that has you slapping your knee or busting a gut. Ironic is probably a more appropriate word for an encounter that changed the strong opinions of a lifelong fan with distain for hot dogs, showboaters and the entire "look at me" generation.
The journey started with one mission in mind: Sit down with various members of the Brewers, including star outfielder Carlos Gomez, in an attempt to understand his flamboyant and often controversial style of play. Safe to say his various skirmishes in the last few years have placed Gomez near the top of the list of most polarizing players in the game.
Enough with the Gomez bashing, I figured. It was time to hear from one of the true stars of the game in his own words, have him explain the meaning behind his bat-flipping and chest-thumping ways and truly get a gauge on Carlos Gomez, the person.
The first thing that struck me about Gomez is his presence. Tall, muscular with a quiet energy that filled up the room. Yes, "quiet" energy. He was humble and a bit shy -- a far cry from the explosive athlete who lights up our television screen every night.
Tell me about Carlos Gomez's personality. Tell me about what we see.
"I'm from the Domincan Republic, you know, like if you don't know, over there we play with passion," he said. "We play and learn by watching TV and watching Sammy Sosa and all those guys, Barry Bonds."
Gomez reasoned that it's his job to entertain the paying customers every night.
"It's not like I mean to disrespect anybody," he said. "It's the way that I play baseball. I enjoy it and I'm happy every day that I play the job that I love, and you know it's like I'm a little kid every time out on the field."
Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, whose personality qualifies as the "anti" Gomez says his teammate is just doing what comes naturally. Lucroy also acknowledged that cultural differences can lead to different styles of expressing emotions but that Gomez is not attempting to be disrespectful. Contrary to popular belief, the center fielder is well received throughout the league. In fact, Lucroy has never had an opposing player question him directly about Gomez's style or so-called "lack of respect" for the game.
"Not one time," said Lucroy. "You know, it's funny, because guys talk to Gomie all the time. I mean, a good example is Todd Frazier. You know, Todd's playing third in Cincinnati and the dugout is on the third-base side and Todd and Gomie are yelling at each other all game. Just chirping back and forth, and it's all in fun."
Brewers nanager Ron Roenicke has a slightly different take on his star. Roenicke says Gomez rubs opposing teams the wrong way, but when you play with him, you love him.
"He knows sometimes when he does something that he shouldn't do and he's very apologetic about it," said Roenicke. "He'll come in and bang his head and he'll say, 'You know, I know that I can't do that.' But he respects the game. He's very emotional, and when you're emotional, sometimes if you're on the other side, you look at it differently than we do because we know him so well."
As the interview continued, it became clear, Gomez is the opposite of what he often appears to be. Gomez wants to be liked. He loves being loved. He embraces the idea that he can walk into his clubhouse, a mall or Miller Park and make people cheer.
"Every time I go shopping, whatever, the people look at me [and say], 'Hey, Carlos!' because they respect me, they love me," he said. "Even when I take my son to school. He's the king of the school, you know, all the kids playing with him, and they love him and they call him 'Mini Go-Go.'"
I'm convinced. The best is yet to come for the 28-year-old Gomez. His tools are dynamic. His maturation is ongoing. His efforts and enthusiasm are off the charts. The game, and some in the media, are starting to accept and embrace players who play with flair and emotion while living out their childhood dream.
Above anything else, Gomez thrives on the adulation most of us will never receive.
"When fans preach your name and they stand up for you, you know, it's emotional, and that's why every time I step on the field, I try to give them the best show they've ever seen," said Gomez.
Not that it matters in the grand and not-so-grand scheme of things, but after that one afternoon in Atlanta, I get it. I've converted to the school of Carlos Gomez and all it entails. Try it for yourself. See how it feels.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET.