On April 15, 2014, Kataoka sat down to talk with Mauro Gomez. He was hitting 20-for-58 (.345) at the time and had reached base safely in 15 straight games from Opening Day. He pointed out that Gomez was hitting the ball to the opposite field quite well. When Kataoka told him that “as you go, so the team will go,” Gomez replied confidently that he believed he would put up numbers that the fans would be pleased with. He also talked about how he spent his days off talking with his mother and wife in the Dominican Republic via the Internet, how he doesn’t like rain, about his father who was in the military, about his first encounter with baseball at age 13, about his hobby (motorcycles), and other aspects of his private life.
Kataoka: Here’s to another great year! Hey, why are you growing out your beard like that?
Gomez: I’m planning on getting it shaved off at a local barber when I get home.
Kataoka: What was it like experiencing Japanese baseball, culture and life in that first year?
Gomez: I love this country and its culture. As for baseball, I felt like the level of play here was really high and that there are a lot of great pitchers and players in this league. I’m enjoying competing in this kind of environment. It was a really fulfilling first year.
Kataoka: A lot happened early last season. You weren’t able to play in the exhibition games and a lot of people were worried about you.
Gomez: I believed I would be able to come over here to Japan and contribute well, but you can’t predict things like injuries. I wasn’t able to prepare as I had hoped to, but when the season started, my condition got better and I was able to contribute early on. Getting hurt was kind of stressful but I just kept believing in myself and I was able to get the job done.
Kataoka: I was able to interview you at this time last year as well, and I remember your first game at Tokyo Dome when you dropped that fly ball at first base. But you came right back with an RBI later in the game. I was relieved! You’re a good guy after all! After the dropped pop-up I was thinking, “He’s dropping fly balls in Tokyo Dome where there’s no wind… is this Gomez guy going to be alright?”
Kataoka: Do you think that RBI propelled your great start?
Gomez: To tell you the truth, I was pretty nervous that first game. When I was in America, I didn’t play in domes that much. I think I had problems adjusting to the lighting. But when I got that first RBI, I feel like I got on a roll. On the other hand if I hadn’t gotten that hit, things would have been a lot harder. I think getting that first RBI helped me relax.
Kataoka: Talking to some of the Japanese pitchers you faced while in America and other people you knew, they all say, “Gomez has changed!” I heard you were purely a pull hitter back then, and you swung at a lot of bad pitches. Were you aware of that tendency and did you purposely make a change to your batting approach?
Gomez: Well in America, I think a lot more pitchers rely heavily on their fastball, so I kind of waited on that pitch and swung hard at them. Coming to Japan, I noticed that a lot of pitchers threw a variety of different pitches, regardless of the count. Of course I still pay close attention to the fastball, but I am also trying to be ready for any offspeed pitch they will throw. I also got good advice from Matt (Murton). I knew I had to relax more at the plate and be a little more flexible. I guess in that respect, I have changed.
Kataoka: From what I observed last year, you never really had a bad slump. There were times you didn’t get many hits, but you never lost that hitting form you had all year, and I think that contributed to you winning the RBI title. Looking back on your numbers, are you satisfied?
Gomez: As far as the numbers go, I’m satisfied with them in some ways, but I feel like I could have done more in other ways. I wish I could have hit a few more home runs. The RBIs came because the guys in front of me got on base a lot, so in a way there is luck involved in that one.
Kataoka: Is there anything you are thinking about changing for the upcoming season?
Gomez: I was able to put up decent numbers last season so I don’t want to make any major changes. I hope to keep the same form I had last season as far as batting goes. But I really want to contribute to the team’s success in all areas: batting, defence, even base running.
Kataoka: I heard a rumor that you’re changing your bat.
Gomez: Yeah, I’m gonna use my favorite bat from when I was in America.
Kataoka: So you ARE changing things from last year then!!! (laughs)
Gomez: Hahahaha. Yeah, I’m making a change or two (laughs). I guess I want to hit a few more home runs this season.
Kataoka: When you came last season you had heard that the Tigers fans were pretty passionate. Did they live up to their reputation last year?
Gomez: They were amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. They cheer right until the last out, no matter what the score is, even if we’re losing badly. The fans here are amazing, like none other anywhere.
Kataoka: Got any favorite foods?
Gomez: Yakiniku (grilled beef).
Kataoka: Yakiniku! How about sushi? Got any sushi stories?
Gomez: I love yakiniku but a few times we went out for sushi, too.
Kataoka: What’d you eat?
Gomez: I don’t remember exactly, but I did have sushi a few times… (laughs)
Kataoka: How about yakitori (BBQ chicken skewers) or Chinese? You like them too?
Gomez: Yeah, I like yakitori, teppanyaki…
Kataoka: You down with Kobe beef?
Gomez: Of course!
Kataoka: Hope you can please the fans again this season with your resilience and power at the plate!
Gomez: Thank you! I’ll do my best!