Upton, Gomes reunited in fresh starts with Braves
Former teammates on 2008 AL champion Rays ready to reestablish winning culture
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- As they share adjoining lockers during Spring Training, Braves outfielders Melvin Upton Jr. and Jonny Gomes will have a chance to reminisce about the days when they played in this same stadium together as members of the 2003 Orlando Rays.
"You play this game long enough and you're definitely going to start circling around," Gomes said. "We're teammates again, but different uniforms. It's his third year here and my first year. The last time we were teammates, they were handing out a bunch of trophies back in 2008."
Gomes and Upton were last together as members of the 2008 Rays club that won the American League pennant with the assistance of Upton, who belted seven home runs in the 16 games he played during that postseason.
"That's how I remember B.J. as a teammate," Gomes said, using the nickname Upton dropped earlier this week. "Obviously things haven't gone that way the past couple of years, but transition is tough. I've seen a lot of guys struggle with transition, but the talent is there. We're just going to scratch the surface. I want him on my team. You can't hide that talent."
Nor can you hide the enthusiasm and energy that Gomes has brought throughout his professional career, which has included stints with the Reds, Nationals, Red Sox and A's since he left the Rays at the conclusion of the 2008 season.
"He's always got that fire about him," Upton said of Gomes. "He's a guy that can change a culture in the clubhouse. He'll fit in fine. He's going to go out there, play hard and give you all he has."
Gomes is among the many Braves who have not yet gotten used to the fact that Upton wants to drop his familiar nickname (B.J.) in favor of his birth name (Melvin). In fact, the Braves' new left fielder playfully said, "We used to call him Melvin to get under his skin."
Upton said his decision to begin using Melvin was not an attempt to begin a new chapter after hitting .198 with a .593 OPS through his first two seasons with Atlanta. But his former Rays teammate is among those who are not completely buying this explanation.
"Regardless of what he is called or what he is going by is totally irrelevant," Gomes said. "He might not tell you guys, but a clean slate never hurts. The name across the chest -- the Atlanta Braves -- is what we'll be sharing, and that's what we'll have in common."