Jays' Yan Gomes beats long odds to reach majors
Father's chance meeting with Cuban coach kick-started Brazilian's baseball days
Not only did Yan Gomes become the first Brazilian-born player to reach the major leagues, his debut came against the most famous baseball team in the world.
Born and partially raised in Sao Paulo, Gomes was promoted to the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday when slumping first baseman Adam Lind was sent to AAA Las Vegas.
Gomes struck out in his first at-bat against New York Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes, but lined a single to right field for his first big-league hit in the fourth. The ball was taken out of play and saved for him as a memento.
Gomes said he was on "an emotional roller coaster" after learning Wednesday he was headed to the majors. The 24-year-old infielder flew overnight from Las Vegas to Toronto, too excited to sleep.
"It's a great feeling, absolutely a great feeling," Gomes said after taking batting practice and fielding grounders at third base, where he started in place of suspended Brett Lawrie.
Gomes overcame long odds to reach the majors after spending his early childhood in soccer-mad South America.
"Growing up in Brazil you would never think of [playing in the majors]," he said. "Coming out here and having it, it seems like it happened so fast, so I definitely have to take it in. I'm really proud of it. It's an honour to represent my country."
Gomes fell in love with baseball following a chance encounter his father had on a trip to the grocery store, bumping into a Cuban baseball coach who was putting together a team and looking for youngsters to play. Yan's father was persuaded to bring his son to a tryout.
"Probably the best thing that he did," said Gomes, who took to the sport immediately.
Gomes can play third base, first base and catcher. He batted .359 with five home runs, 12 doubles and 22 runs batted in at Las Vegas.
"He's a hard-nosed player," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "I'd say he's kind of a blue-collar type of guy that has never had anything given to him. His ascent to the major leagues has been clearly earned on his part.
Toronto's 10th-round draft pick in 2009, Gomes moved to the United States with his family when he was 12. He's only returned to Brazil twice in the 12 years since, but said he still keeps in contact with some childhood friends.
"He was one of the brighter stories in spring training for us," Farrell said.
Gomes went to high school in Miami and attended the University of Tennessee, where he was a teammate of Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia. Gomes also attended Barry University in Miami.
Wearing jersey No. 68, Gomes was especially pleased to start his career against the 27-time World Series champion Yankees.
"Growing up in Brazil, the Yankees are one of the only teams you know about, so this is kind of a crazy dream," he said. "Can't wake up right now."