Taking Off

May 3, 2002

by Josh Griffin
The Santa Clara

"You must learn how to fail before you can truly succeed," late Casa Grande High School baseball coach Bob Leslie used to tell senior Joey Gomes. Failure, however, took its time in finding Gomes.

As a high school senior at Casa Grande in Petaluma, Calif. Gomes hit .532 with five homeruns and 39 RBIs. He followed that up as a freshman at the College of Marin, where he was named first team All-Bay Valley Conference behind a .388 average, eight homeruns and 57 RBIs.

Upon arriving on the Mission Campus, Gomes met moderate success as a sophomore, and followed that up with a disappointing junior season that saw his average fall to .223. He mustered only two homeruns and 15 RBIs on the season, while starting only 25 games.

"I can totally relate to Coach Leslie's advice right now, with the year that I had last year compared to now," Gomes said. "I can't say enough good things about Coach Leslie."

While the depths that Gomes reached last season were difficult to handle, he has bounced back from his failures en route to one of the finest single seasons in the history of Santa Clara baseball. He heads into this week's competition batting .411 with eight homeruns and 41 RBIs. Additionally, he tied Mike Frank's single-season record of 25 doubles in a season.

"The main difference between last year and this year is opportunity. My first two years here I wasn't given an opportunity to play every day," Gomes said. "I never lost confidence in myself, and I always put myself in a position to succeed. Then when Coach O'Brien came to Santa Clara, he said, 'you're going to get that opportunity to play and show everyone what you can do.'"

Consistently remaining humble, Gomes is quick to point out the positive influences that have guided his season.

"Coach O'Brien has confidence in me, which gives me more confidence. That allows me to just relax and go out there and play," Gomes said. "It's a huge tribute not just to Coach O'Brien, but the whole coaching staff."

In his first year O'Brien is also quick to sing the praises of his star player.

"[Gomes] has had one of the most consistent years of any player that I have ever coached," O'Brien said. "From the first game until now, he's been extremely consistent. All that credit goes to him because he's the guy who has had to endure some very difficult times in his college career. [Gomes] is as good a hitter as I have coached."

Pretty high praise from a man who has coached eight first-round draft picks, including former Stanford star and current Chicago White Sox top prospect Joe Borchard.

Gomes has taken the opportunity given to him by O'Brien's staff and run with it, not only showing his teammates and opposition what he can do, but also impressing a number of Major League scouts.

"Major League clubs just cannot ignore his bat, and there's not a lot of people who can do what he does on a consistent basis," O'Brien said. "Major League teams can see that, and they notice a guy who can consistently hit the ball with authority."

"As far as the draft goes, I really have no control over it," Gomes said. "I don't know where I'm going to go, or to what team, but I'm sure wherever I go, it will be a good move for me."

Regardless of where he ends up, he will have completed one of the most successful seasons in Santa Clara baseball lore. Of course, to reach this success, he had to fail first.