Rangers gave Gomez the chance he needed

February 28th, 2017

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- One of the first telephone calls received after being released by the Houston Astros last summer was from someone he considers both a mentor and a friend.

"You're going to be fine," told his buddy. "You're going to have many teams trying to sign you."

Gomez was thankful for those words of encouragement. He would be even more thankful for something else Beltran was doing.

"Bring him here," Beltran, who had just been acquired by the Rangers in a Trade Deadline deal, told manager Jeff Banister. "I got him. I know him. I know how to deal with him."

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Did these conversations save Gomez's career? It's too soon for that discussion. But for six weeks at the end of last summer, it was resurrected with the Texas Rangers.

In that brief time, Gomez once more resembled the player who had made two National League All-Star teams for the Brewers (2014-15) and was one of baseball's best center fielders.

In 85 games for the Astros in 2016, Gomez hit five home runs and had a .596 OPS. In 33 games for the Rangers, he hit eight home runs and had a .905 OPS. Gomez cut back on his strikeouts, got on base more often and helped Texas win the American League West.

Gomez credits the Rangers for outlining a program that snapped him out of the bad habits he had developed. When Texas offered him a one-year, $11.5 million contract for 2017, the 31-year-old didn't think twice.

"I hope I can stay here and finish my career," Gomez said. "I feel loyal to them. They picked me up when I was on the ground. That's something me and my family will always be thankful for."

Beltran knew Gomez occasionally rubbed people the wrong way with his energy and passion. But those bubbling emotions were also part of why he'd been a good player for so long.

"He's a great person -- very energetic," Beltran told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "Sometimes the energy puts him in situations where sometimes fans or other players look up to him and they think he's acting, but that's the passion that he has for the game."

The Rangers took Beltran's advice and signed Gomez, then sent him to Triple-A to get his game back. Banister outlined exactly what Texas wanted from him in terms of plate discipline and how he could get back to the big leagues.

"He was a guy I loved watching play," Banister said, "and whenever I saw him, I would tell him that. I think when he came here, he knew there was some admiration for him."

Gomez played three games for Triple-A Round Rock, and on Aug. 25 -- exactly a week after being released by the Astros -- he made his debut in left field for the Rangers. He batted eighth.

"He didn't have to be 'The Guy,'" Banister said. "I think it allowed him to just go play the game."

Gomez hit a three-run home run in his first at-bat for his new team. Six days later, he hit a grand slam.

"I think I found something I'd been looking for many years," Gomez said. "In the past, even when I had good seasons, I never felt I was consistent. I'd go 4-for-4, and there'd be maybe one at-bat where I know what I'm doing. I just had God-given ability. Now I know where I have to be to hit the ball consistently every time."

helped Gomez along the way, making sure he felt welcome and that he understood what was expected of him.

"I just let him know what we're all about," Beltre said. "How we do things around here. What we expect from him. He was on board. He felt comfortable. That first game, he looked comfortable even before the game."

Gomez played left last season, but is back in center field for the Rangers this season. He said he has never been happier or more confident.

"I grew up doing this. I love baseball," Gomez said. "When I don't cross that line and know I'm going to have fun, I'll go home. When of the reasons I signed here is because every single day I enjoy being around these guys. I want to continue to feel that."