Over the years while watching Vallejo Admirals outfielder Vlad Gomez, one of the first things one notices is his ritual before he bats.
The right-handed slugger will approach home plate and then head a few feet up the third base line to take one or two practice swings. He’ll then return toward home plate where he’ll hold his bat out with one hand, pointing at the plate, as if to say, “This is where you will now focus.” He’ll then grab some dirt with both hands, rub his hands together and then clap three times. No more, no less, always three times. More often than not, fans at Wilson Park would always clap along with him. Even opposing fans have taken part.
“It’s something I picked up in New Mexico when I was playing there,” Gomez said. “It’s more like a routine that helps me to not think about anything else.”
Recently, however, some umpires have told Gomez that his routine is taking too long (a whole 15-20 seconds) and that he must minimize it or get rid of it. He has complied.
That said, nobody seems to be able to know how to stop what Gomez does once he enters the batter’s box.
The 26-year-old has been one of Vallejo’s better hitters this season, as he entered Friday night’s game against Napa with a .294 batting average. He’s especially hit well in August, having collected a hit in all but one game since July 28, including a four-hit game at Pittsburg on Aug. 2. Gomez has five home runs, 38 RBIs and 45 runs scored on the season.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Vallejo manager P.J. Phillips said. “He brings that Latin flavor, which is exactly what we need. He’s a clutch hitter and we’ve needed him all year.”
Gomez grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., and idolized the Yankees, especially former outfielder Bernie Williams.
“I loved how (Williams) played the game and always grinded,” Gomez said. “He seemed to always give 110 percent and dove for balls whether they were fair or foul. I wanted to be like that.”
Gomez started playing baseball as a shortstop, but by the time he was a junior at James Monroe High he became a right fielder, a position he takes a lot of pride in to this day.
“I like to wave my glove at baserunners, trying to make them attempt an extra base on me,” Gomez said, with a laugh.
After high school Gomez attended Monroe College in New Rochelle before transferring to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“Arkansas was a dramatic change for me in that I went from a big city to a small one,” Gomez said. “Everything seems to be more slowed down (in Arkansas). I got used to living in a small town, but at the same time there is nothing like living in New York and hanging out in Times Square during the summer.”
These days Gomez spends his summers in Vallejo, but it didn’t come easy. Gomez was one of the last players cut during the Admirals’ spring training in 2016. After being cut, he then went to play in New Mexico for the White Sands Pupfish of the Pecos League, another independent conference. That season he batted .330 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs for the Pupfish. When the season ended, he joined the Admirals and played nine games.
“He came here due to word of mouth from the team,” Phillips said. “Our shortstop got hurt and we took a chance on him. Since then he’s been lights out for us.”
Gomez saw his production go down a little in 2017, as he batted .255 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs to go with nine stolen bases. That being said, he was a regular fixture on a team that won the Pacific Association championship.
“I really love how last year’s team bonded,” Gomez said. “It was a great journey for us. P.J. did a great job of moving all the right pieces at the right time. It was a great year and I’m very thankful for the opportunity P.J. gave me in professional baseball. A lot of guys I know wish they had the opportunity I had.”
This year Gomez has once again seen his production go up as he bats anywhere from the fifth spot to more recently, the leadoff position.
“He’s a grinder,” Phillips said. “He doesn’t give at bats away. He makes solid, good contact and he listens. He is always making adjustments at the plate.”
One of the biggest adjustments Gomez has made lately is ditching his pre-bat ritual, sometimes completely, no matter how much some Vallejo fans may miss it.
“The first game they told me I had to shorten it I thought, ‘Well, it’s not worth it to shorten it, I’ll just not do it at all.’ But then before my third at bat a young fan came up to the fence while I was in the on deck circle and asked why I wasn’t doing it,” Gomez said, with a laugh. “So that time I did it. Kids love it and look, it’s not harmful. I’m not showing anybody up. It shows kids and teaches them to enjoy the game.”