Casa Grande High School baseball coach Paul Maytorena didn't get a chance to see his former player and current friend Jonny Gomes hit what is quite possibly the biggest home run ever struck by a baseball player from Petaluma on any level. Maytorena was driving and had to be content with hearing a description of the blast that gave the Boston Red Sox life and tied their World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals at two games apiece. But the big fly didn't surprise him.
"Walks are the key," Maytorena explained. "When he begins taking walks, he is getting locked in." In his time at bat before the sixth-inning home run on Sunday, Gomes had walked.
Maytorena said he felt like the home run was for the whole town and for the whole 707 area code.
Gomes famously has the number 707 on his glove and spikes to remind him of his hometown. He has been a major contributor to local causes in whatever city he has played, but has never forgotten his hometown. He has sponsored Little League teams, been a frequent guest at Camp for a Cure baseball camp which raises funds to combat cancer and donated countless memorabilia to local auctions and fundraising event. When the Petaluma National Little Leaguers went to Williamsport for the Little League World Series in 2012, Gomes was a leader in the effort to raise money to insure that their families could make the trip. Last year, as a member of the Oakland A's, he attended the Little Leaguers welcome-home party and brought along his Oakland teammate Josh Reddick.
"In a way we are all part of it," Maytorena said of Gomes' moment in the spotlight. "Jonny is the role model for Casa Grande baseball. We all feel part of what he's accomplished. It is almost like what we felt about the Little League team, but he is the whole team."
Maytorena said he and Gomes share a common bond because both lost special friends in the space of a year. Gomes' best friend, Adam Westcott, a catcher on the Casa Grande baseball team, died in a vehicle crash in 1997. Gomes was injured in the same accident. Maytorena's best friend, then head coach Bob Leslie, died of cancer less than a year later. "I think it gives us a special bond," the Maytorena said.
Gomes hasn't forgotten Leslie. Sunday, the fifth inning just before he hit his home run, Boston fans, players and team personnel held up signs with the names of people they were supporting or honoring in the fight against cancer. Gomes held up two of the signs, one for Leslie, and the other for 5-year-old Brady Wein, diagnosed with leukemia.
Maytorena hasn't had a chance to attend any of the post-season games, but he was in Boston visiting Gomes when the Red Sox clinched the American League East championship. "That was crazy," he said. "It was great to see that. I'm so fortunate to have Jonny as a friend."
Gomes, at 32, is something of a baseball elder statesman. He first arrived in the Majors with Tampa Bay in 2003 and played in Tampa until 2009, when he signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds. During the 2011 season, he was traded to the Washington Nationals in 2012, he helped the Oakland As win the American League West championship and reached the playoffs. Before the start of this season he signed with the Red Sox.
Loved by fans whereever he has played for his hustle and enthusiasm, baseball followers agree that his value transcends his .244 career batting average. He was once of the instigators of the Boston beard-growing mania that has help bind a team riddled with dissension just a year earlier into a cohesive unit on the verge of being a world champion.
During his career he has hit 150 Major League home runs (counting Sunday's), but none bigger than the one that sailed into Boston lore and into the hearts of everyone who uses area code 707.