Angels paying tribute to Gomez
Uniform patch honors late coach, scout and assistant to the GM
There isn't a day that goes by in the Spring Training camp of the Los Angeles Angels that someone doesn't mention his name.
He is not present in a physical sense, but his emotional presence seems to be everywhere someone is wearing an Angels uniform -- on a practice field, in a game, in the dugout and in the conference room when manager Mike Scioscia assembles his coaches and advisors.
Preston Gomez passed away in January as a result of injuries sustained last March when he was on his way home to Southern California from the Angels' spring camp in Tempe, Ariz.
It was a freakish accident. Gomez was hit by a pickup truck while walking to his car at a service station after making a stop in Blythe, Calif. He sustained head injuries and never fully recovered.
"Preston had an incredible passion for baseball, and he was a mentor for all of us who were fortunate to spend time with him," Scioscia said. "He certainly is missed, but I know his presence is felt every time we take the field because of the knowledge and wisdom he imparted to us."
The name "Preston Gomez" carried a legendary status in the Angels' organization, but he was almost unknown to fans of the team. That was fine with him. He preferred to operate out of the spotlight.
"The Angels' family lost one of its invaluable members with Preston's passing," said general manager Tony Reagins. "His influence and impact on so many throughout the industry is impossible to measure. Preston's legacy will forever remain a part of this organization."
The Angels will honor Gomez's memory by wearing a black "PRESTON" patch on their sleeves this season.
Gomez, 86, had served the Angels for 28 years as a coach, special-assignment scout and assistant to the general manager.
I was fortunate to develop a friendship with Gomez during my time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it was clear that titles were not important to the gentleman from Cuba.
What was important to him was being around the game and contributing in every way possible.
"There hasn't been a day this spring that I haven't thought about Preston," said Angels scout Gary Sutherland. "It was impossible to get to the ballpark before Preston. I used to come early just to see if I could beat him here, but I never could. He had to be here by 6:30 a.m. for a spring workout.
"Preston developed friendships with everyone. He not only knew the names of the players and people in the front office, but he knew the names of all of the members of the family.
"My family fell in love with Preston, as did so many Angel families, and our daughters decided to make up T-shirts this spring with three of his favorite words: LISTEN, LEARN, OBSERVE."
The Angels coaches I reached out to for thoughts on Gomez all offered comments about his knowledge and his caring personality.
"Preston was the most knowledgeable person I've met in the game," said hitting coach Mickey Hatcher. "He had a love for the game. His first love was family, but his second love was baseball."
"Preston meant a lot to me and helped me a great deal," said third-base coach Dino Ebel. "I'd talk to him every morning in the spring, and he would give me great advice about being a better third-base coach."
"Family was so important to Preston," said bench coach Ron Roenicke. "He always came to my son's baseball and football games, starting when Lance was in junior high. He would talk to everyone, and he usually ended up giving away everything he had with him. If someone didn't have a seat, he'd give away his portable chair that he carried with him. If it was cold, he'd give away his nice leather gloves. He was a very generous man."
Gomez broke into the Major Leagues in 1944 as a 21-year-old infielder, playing in only eight games, and it wasn't until 25 years later that he had a chance to manage in the Majors, becoming the first skipper of the San Diego Padres in 1969.
The man who gave him the opportunity was former Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi.
"I often thought one of the reasons Dad asked Preston to take that very difficult job was to impart his many personal qualities on the youngsters in his charge, which included me and my brothers," says former Major League executive Peter Bavasi. "Preston had a keen baseball mind and a world of knowledge, which he was happy to patiently share with those around him -- his players, the writers and young front-office workers like us.
"But more important, I thought, was the way Preston showed us how to live a baseball life. How to show deep respect for the game and for all those who toil in it. How to be passionate about winning, yet understanding the inevitability of losing.
"How to question yourself before you question others. How to always take the high road, where class and dignity win out. How to be private, if you can, in a very public business. And how to always -- always -- be a gentleman."
When I had the opportunity to visit Gomez last spring at the Angels' camp, he could not have looked better or seemed happier.
He was in his favorite arena, surrounded by young players, coaches, scouts, clubhouse workers and front-office employees.
Gomez had no way of knowing that would be his last spring in a baseball environment, but he was making the most of every moment and enjoying every experience, as always.
There may be those people who see the Angels play this season and wonder what the "PRESTON" patch stands for.
But all of those with the Angels will know, and they will wear the patch with great pride.
Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. His book "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue" was published by SportsPublishing LLC. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.