FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ironsides was eradicated six days ago, but the shock waves still reverberate.
Jonny Gomes walked into the Red Sox clubhouse on Tuesday for the first time this spring, and the walls seemed to shake. Shane Victorino said Gomes looked like a high school freshman without his scruffy sidekick. Manager John Farrell, who said he did a double take when his eyes first locked in on Gomes, opined that Gomes looked more like 27 than 33.
Gomes’ identity seemed to be tied to Ironsides, like Mike Napoli’s is to The Siesta. To many, the Red Sox’s mojo last season was inextricably linked to The Bearded Boys of Summer.
So how can Gomes -- or the Red Sox -- possibly go on?
“It’s a friggin' beard,” Gomes said defiantly. “No one died. We’re gonna be all right.”
Appearing on Fox News’ Fox & Friends last Wednesday, Gomes let Elisabeth Hasselbeck hack away at his beard to earn a $10,000 donation from Norelco to the Travis Roy Foundation. When he met the media Tuesday just outside the clubhouse, the only thing left was a soul patch that barely registered on the facial-hair Richter Scale.
“It was a fun ride,” Gomes said. “Everyone’s got that lucky T-shirt or that lucky tie. It’s lucky ’til it has a loss, then it kind of gets picked out of your gear. But I guess kind of like Ray Lewis or Jerome Bettis, kind of just going out a champ, I wanted to take it out and just throw it up on the mantle and let it go out a champ.”
Ironsides, the beard, may be gone, but Ironsides is very much alive. That’s Gomes' nickname. It’s a tribute to the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor.
He’s much more than a player. He’s a trusted clubhouse confidante, a gifted conversationalist, a motivational maven, a guy who will put you on his back and carry you.
And that Ironsides is still around, even if the whiskers aren’t.
“He makes people around him better through confidence, through conversation , through conversation about the game,” Farrell said. “He’s a strong believer in himself, and there’s a way he imparts that to others.
“(In) a game that’s based on failure, as we all know, you’re always looking for ways to regroup and maintain the level of confidence. I’m not going to say it’s strictly done through talk, but when you’ve got a guy who’s been with a number of different teams and had to battle for everything he’s had in his career, and yet he believes so strongly in himself, those are part of the conversations other guys feed off and take from it.”
Gomes puts 100 percent into everything he does. There’s an edge to him, and it’s always pointed in the right direction.
“I guess I’ve been fortunate, and unfortunate, to bounce around,” he said, “and in bouncing around, I’ve always been extremely focused on the game at hand, the pitch at hand. So playing under Lou Piniella, Joe Maddon, Dusty Baker, Davey Johnson, Bob Melvin ... American League, National League ... how that organization works, what that organization’s philosophies are ... To be able to have five different ones under my belt, you truly see what works and what doesn’t work.
“From that, I’ve always said, ‘There’s hundreds of ways to lose a ballgame, hundreds of ways to lose a clubhouse and lose momentum, but there’s not that many things you have to do to win. There’s not that many things you have to do to keep a tight clubhouse. You pay attention to the game long enough and care long enough, you can pick some of those big adjectives out and bring them where you go.”
The legend of Gomes really took off during the championship parade. When the procession reached the Boston Marathon finish line, Gomes rested the World Series trophy on the yellow-and-blue paint and draped the 617 “Boston Strong” jersey over it.
“There’s real-life goose bumps right there,” Gomes sad. “None of it was fake. None of it was to get Sox Nation on my side and Sox Nation to love me. I always think, the bigger the stage and the more money you make just makes you more of the person you are.
“I’ve always rallied around my teammates as family and rallied around my community as if it was my hometown. To be able to drop that World Series trophy down within feet of the bomb, I don’t think when the story was written that was even in there. And to have the opportunity from the Red Sox to have the World Series trophy on my duck boat for me to bring it up was pretty humbling and a tearjerker at the same time right there, listening to ‘God Bless America.’
“All those happy thoughts definitely doesn’t erase the tragedy that did happen and the lives that were lost, but (that was) just a little quick momentum starter.”
Gomes knows 14 years have passed since a team won back-to-back World Series. It’s not easy to do. Sometimes the hunger just isn’t there in the same way.
But Gomes said his hunger has “turned to starvation.”
“You don’t see too many back-to-backs,” he said. “How do you do it? I guess if there was a way, that book would be written. You can’t bring back all 25-plus guys. You can’t practice all those magical walk-offs. You can’t practice going through three or four closers to find Koji (Uehara). It’s going to have to be a whole new chapter, a whole new blueprint, and just a whole new avenue of ways.
“We’ve got the executive of the year and almost manager of the year back. We’ll do what we can to build an identity right now and hit the ground running.”
With or without Ironsides. The beard.