February 19

Clean-shaven Gomes of Red Sox still itching for another World Series title

Jonny Gomes, a big inspiration for Boston last season, shocks some teammates with his new look.

By Howard Ulman
The Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s time to cut off all that Boston beard talk.

click image to enlarge

Boston Red Sox left fielder Jonny Gomes speaks with reporters during spring training practice Tuesday in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Associated Press

For Jonny Gomes, it wasn’t too stressful to get rid of the bushy growth that flourished along with his team last season.

“I mean, no one died,” he said Tuesday with just a patch of light-brown hair below his lip remaining. “We’re going to be all right.”

Looking much younger than his 33 years, the outfielder arrived at spring training after having his beard shaved off on national television last Wednesday. Some Red Sox teammates from last year’s club that won the World Series were shocked at his new, almost unrecognizable appearance.

He looks like “a freshman in high school,” right fielder Shane Victorino said.

“I wouldn’t go back that far,” Manager John Farrell said with a smile, “but he looked young.”

Gomes and first baseman Mike Napoli encouraged teammates to grow beards in spring training last season, their first with Boston. They kept growing theirs and, along with catcher David Ross, sported the longest beards by the end of the season.

More than a curiosity, it was part of a change in a dour clubhouse culture and helped many new players bond in a more enjoyable atmosphere. Gomes hit just .247 last season when he platooned in left field with Daniel Nava, but the value of his personality may have been greater. That led Farrell to start Gomes in left field in five games of the six-game World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

“There was an edge that we had a little bit more when he was in the lineup,” Farrell said. “Jonny brought an intangible that others feed off.”

Gomes was hitless in his first nine at-bats, then hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning that broke a 1-all tie in Game 4. Boston won, 4-2.

“He adds so much and it starts with what he does between the lines,” Farrell said.

Gomes has played on five teams since starting with Tampa Bay in 2003 and four have reached the postseason. The Rays lost the World Series in 2008 but he didn’t play in that postseason. He was with Cincinnati in 2010 and Oakland in 2012 but both lost the division series. His team finally went all the way last year.

“I’ve been fortunate and unfortunate to bounce around, and in bouncing around I’ve always been extremely focused on the game at hand, the pitch at hand,” Gomes said. “You truly see what works and what doesn’t work.

“There’s hundreds of ways to lose a clubhouse and lose momentum. There’s not that many things you have to do to win. There’s not many things you have to do to keep a tight clubhouse.”

The right-handed hitting Gomes and switch-hitting Nava figure to platoon again in left field. Grady Sizemore, sidelined the last two seasons, also will get a look in left.

Whatever role he plays, Gomes is looking ahead to helping the Red Sox achieve the same goal as last year.

While the beard may be gone, his hunger remains.

“I was extremely hungry to win a World Series title but once you take a bite of it, that’s definitely what it’s all about,” he said.

Gomes’ enthusiasm and drive rub off on his teammates.

“When you’ve got a guy who’s been with a number of different teams, he’s had to battle for everything he’s had in his career,” Farrell said, “and yet he believes so strongly in himself. Those are part of the conversations that other guys feed on.”

Many of them followed his lead in growing their beards. Now only Napoli’s remains.

“The beard didn’t hit or throw a fastball all year,” Gomes said. “I think I’ll be all right.”

And Gomes reminded Victorino that the clean-shaven person is still the same.

“He said, ‘don’t judge the book by its cover,’” Victorino said. “And I said, ‘I will promise you, I know one thing. I will not judge your book by the cover.’ So Jonny definitely looks young but I’m sure that facial hair will grow back.”

 

NOTES: Right-hander Jake Peavy went through long tossing Tuesday and irritation in his right ring finger had lessened, Farrell said. ... Reliever Francisco Cordero, who didn’t play last season after compiling 329 saves but struggling in 2012, had a bullpen session. “He’s dropped nearly 30 pounds. He’s in great shape,” Farrell said.

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