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Meeting Jonny and Joey Gomes at ‘The Barn’

Published: Friday, November 1, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 9:49 a.m.

I was new to Petaluma again when I first met Jonny Gomes. After more than three decades away, I recognized parts of the town, but only parts. I was pretty familiar with the westside, and downtown hadn’t really changed that much. Petaluma High School was pretty much the same, only bigger with more buildings, and I generally knew the area, particularly Ray’s Grocery where the attraction for a young sports writer had definitely not been the bread and milk. Casa Grande High School was familiar, but not all the housing that had grown up around the school. St. Vincent now had a sparkling new gymnasium. When I was here before, the Mustangs played their home basketball games at Kenilworth Junior High School.

I can’t recall how long I had been back, but I was still feeling my way around when I received a call from a man named Jon Banister who invited me to come out to the barn he had converted into a batting cage.

It wasn’t hard to find, but I wasn’t sure what I was getting into as I pulled up to a structure that looked like it had fallen out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I was greeted by a teenager standing outside the barn. “Hi. I’m Sam.” She didn’t look like a Sam. Later, I was to watch Sam Banister develop into perhaps the best softball player ever to come out of Petaluma and an important member of the national champion University of Arizona team.

Inside the barn, I was introduced to two young men, who I took to be older than high school players. My memory fades a bit, but I believe that Jonny was already playing pro ball and Joey was still in college at the time. I didn’t pay much attention. My story was about the barn.

It was what it was — a barn, but it had been rigged with nets to pretty much protect the pitcher and contain most baseballs. Of course, the nets couldn’t contain the Gomes brothers. Ralph Gentile, who still helps Paul Maytorena with the Casa Grande baseball program, did the pitching, and Joey and Jonny put on a show. It was pretty much soft toss, but I have, to this day, never seen such quick swings or watched the ball jump with such authority off a baseball bat. I can recall only two local players I’ve seen since with swings even approaching what I saw from Jonny and Joey. One was Ralph’s son, D.J., who would wait until high school pitches were seemingly already by them before sizzling a line drive somewhere. The other comparable swing belongs to last year’s Casa Grande catcher Francis Christy, who had that same uncanny ability to whip into the baseball, no matter if it were a fastball, breaking ball or change.

The thought struck me that, then, that if these two brothers keep hitting, the barn might not last through the winter. About that time, one of the brothers, I believe it was Joey, slammed a shot over the net that smashed into the wall inches from the ceiling, knocking loose a large plank that crashed to the floor.

I hung around for awhile, took a few swings myself, the ball popping, rather than exploding off my borrowed bat, and then retired to write my story about the barn, never considering that I had been casualty chatting with the young man who would become perhaps the most famous person ever to come out of Petaluma, and a World Series hero in the bargain. Who could have known?

Here’s a footnote to this little story. I couldn’t tell a bit of difference in the swings of the two brothers.

I’m no baseball scout or expert, but I’ve been arond the game for quite a while, and I believe to this day that, with a few breaks, Joey could have joined Jonny in the Majors.

One thing is certain, I will never forget my visit to “The Barn.”

It’s strange, this thing we call life.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)

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