Gomes Bros -- Petaluma National's secret weapons

August 16, 2012, 12:56 am
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It can be said with the utmost of certainty that every little league baseball player dreams of someday making it to the major leagues. It is far less common that a big leaguer admires something that a group of talented 12-year-olds is achieving on the field. As the Petaluma National Little League team enters play in the 66th Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania -- the tables of fandom have turned. And rightfully so. Oakland Athletics outfielder Jonny Gomes is closely following the run of his hometown little league team. He is so into it, in fact, that he has to find a way to sneak in score updates while he is competing in games of his own at the highest level of professional baseball. The major league outfielder is happy to report the developments of the Petaluma kids to anyone in the dugout that will listen. "I mean it is pretty special," Gomes said. "Growing up in that town, it's not like Petaluma area, or near Petaluma. It IS Petaluma." Of the over 4,000 teams vying for a spot in the coveted Little League World Series, the kids from Petaluma represent one of 16 teams that have made it to the tournament. They are thrilled to have a major league-caliber supporter. "They know that Jonny has been paying attention and is asking about them," Petaluma National Little League coach Eric Smith said. "He's called me a couple of times and mentioned what he was doing when he was watching the games and stuff, so the kids are pretty excited just that he's even paying attention." Gomes is using his star status to help raise money to send the families of the Petaluma team to the Little League World Series. Comcast Sportsnet, the A's and the Giants also helped raise 15,000 to offset their travel costs. Little League International foots the bill for the players and coaches travel, but not their family members. Each trip costs an estimated 2,500.On Wednesday they announced they reached their fundraising goal. While Jonny Gomes helps in any way he can, the work his older brother Joey has done for the Petaluma kids has been one of the keys to their success. Joey runs the Redwood Baseball Institute in Santa Rosa. It is the largest indoor batting facility in the North Bay. Many of the kids on Petaluma's Little League World Series team have been training under his instruction for years."He's a lot more hands-on than I am," Jonny said of his brother. "He's getting all the youth from all over the area in there. He's like a proud father watching his work show in between the lines."Joey was an accomplished baseball player in his own right, as an All-American in High School and College. But his real knack is teaching the game. "Joey has been huge, not just for the kids but for me," PNLL coach Smith said. "A lot of these kids have been going to Joey for batting tips for many years or more. Joey has been a big part of our success."Coach Smith's son Hance also goes to Joey for instruction. Joey isn't just teaching Hance however, he is also indirectly teaching the coach who implements some of Joey's teachings on his own team. "Mentoring, coaching, all aspects of the game. It has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of that," Joey said. "How could you not rally around a group of 12-year-old kids that are essentially one of the top teams in the U.S.A.? It's phenomenal.""It takes a big talent to teach the game," Jonny said. "Even up here in the big leagues I've worked with Hall of Famers who have no idea how to teach it, they just know how to do it. He's got a pretty good tool to give back to these kids."Joey uses his younger brother Jonny as a template for his teaching. Being able to give instruction, then point to the examples of the hard work and hustle exemplified by his big league brother is a perfect recipe. "Jonny Gomes is my favorite baseball player too," Joey said. "He is the epitome of the way you should play the game." Joey says that he and his brother Jonny were taught to play the game as hard as they can. When players of all levels come to him for instruction they always ask him about things Jonny is doing on the field. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. "I guess we are just seeing a bunch of kids playing the game the right way," Joey said. "And boom! World Series." Jonny Gomes is often referred to as the "Pride of Petaluma." He says his brother Joey might rightfully own that title. "Maybe we can share that or something," Joey said. "He is just as much a part of Petaluma as anyone else is. Both Jonny and I are proud of where we came from. Just the fact baseball has taken over in Petaluma is really exciting for both of us, really."He isn't kidding. With the successful run of the Petaluma National Little League team, the interest level has expanded well beyond the confines of the small city of less than 60,000 residents. Their team proudly represents the entire state of California now. The only other West Coast team to make it to Williamsport is from Gresham, Oregon. "We've gotten letters of support from all over the Bay Area," coach Smith said. "The way these kids carry themselves they've helped build support at these tournaments by just being good stewards of the game."A's manager Bob Melvin even took the time to give the players a pep talk via speaker phone on Wednesday. "They're representing themselves, little league baseball, their families, it's really quite an honor," Joey said. "Obviously this is something that these kids are going to remember forever."Petaluma's team went 4-0 to win the West Regional Championship. They are the first Sonoma County team to make it to the Little League World Series, and the first Northern California team to advance to the World Series since the Aptos Little League did it in 2002. "World Series has a ring to it," coach Smith said. "It is hard to believe every time I hear it."Petaluma takes the field at 12 p.m. on Thursday. They will be taking on the Fairfield American Little League team from Connecticut."Watch the way those guys play, they just get it," Joey said. "Yes, they are 12 by age, but they are well beyond their years with the composure, and the confidence and the little swagger that they have."

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