From A Mission To The Mound

April 28, 2009

By Allen Wagner
The Daily

Adrian Gomez hadn't pitched in two years.

From September 2006 to September 2008, he was on a church mission in Mexico, practicing his baseball every so often by throwing oranges or chucking rocks at dogs that chased him on the streets of Guadalajara.

And when it came time for the pitcher from Battleground, Wash., to return to the UW baseball team this season, head coach Ken Knutson had to introduce Gomez to the new members of the team.

'Kenny had been talking about me,' said Gomez. 'He would tell stories about, `You guys are here throwing baseballs, he's just out there throwing ... rocks at dogs.' That was the introduction.'

Perhaps re-introduction would be a better word.

Now a sophomore, Gomez came to the UW in 2006 and immediately made an impact on the mound as a freshman, but as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he left on the church mission he had been eyeing since he was 12 years old.

Now he's back, trying to readjust and pitch at the level he was recruited for three years ago.

Knutson might have been apprehensive about allowing one of his new pitchers to go on a mission one year into a college baseball career, but both he and Gomez agreed that, as long as he returned to pitch for the Huskies, Knutson would be OK with it.

'I went into the interview with [Knutson], and the first thing I said was, `Look, I'm going to be leaving in a year, and for two years I'm going to be on a mission. What do you feel about that?'' Gomez said. 'He didn't say anything for, like, 10 minutes. I was just sitting there really quiet, and finally, he said that would be OK.'

So after his first year -- during which he tossed 28 1/3 innings with a 4.45 ERA and led the Huskies to a 13-inning 5-4 victory over Washington State -- he departed for Mexico.

But, being a Mormon missionary, Gomez had a lot of hardship ahead of him -- hardship he said made him humble and made him work harder to achieve his goals.

Gomez had to learn Spanish essentially from scratch and woke up at 4 a.m., more than two hours earlier than the rest of his group in the heart of Guadalajara, to study the language.

'Some nights I would just come home crying because I couldn't understand people, and they couldn't understand me,' Gomez said. 'But, little by little, I got better and better and eventually mastered the language to where I could joke with people and get along on a daily basis.'

That was just the language, only one aspect of his time in Mexico.

Gomez continued his study of the Book of Mormon and spent most of his days doing what missionaries do -- helping those in need.

'I would ... mow people's lawns, sweep people's front porches,' Gomez said. 'I washed a lot of houses' dishes and offer to come in and help them.'

His time in Mexico was exhausting; He started out in Guadalajara, went to Puerto Vallarta and then traveled throughout Mexico. Gomez didn't skip a beat, doing his missionary work 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

'It was two years of absolute work,' Gomez said. 'I lost a lot of weight. I got sick a lot. I walked probably 12 miles a day. And I came home with nothing.'

In fact, the day after he got back to Seattle, he walked to baseball practice with nothing but the shirt and tie that he had on from his mission. It was like a reverse culture shock.

For two long years, he hadn't seen his teammates, hadn't seen his coach, hadn't seen the girl he dated before the mission -- Corinne, now his wife.

'It was tough to adjust,' Gomez said. 'They gave me new shoes, everything that I have on. It was amazing to be able to get all this stuff when I had nothing.'

Knutson saw that Gomez had a long way to go before reaching the level he was at prior to leaving. Gomez threw roughly 90 miles per hour in 2006, but just after he got back in September 2008, his fastball was in the 80-82 range.

'I kind of expected that,' Knutson said. 'He had a good fall, and he had a really good winter, but being away from the game for two years ... doesn't help you. But he's a real conscientious kid, and he knew that when he got back, he would have to work.'

Gomez was no stranger to work. He'd just spent two years of his life working hard for something he believes in.

Now he's working hard for something else he believes in -- baseball.

His fastball is back up to 87 mph, and he has gained 12 pounds of muscle. And, despite struggling at times this season, Gomez said that his experience in Mexico has given him the confidence and worldview to help him on the mound at the UW.

'Even though there are hard circumstances, even if things are rough, you have to work harder,' Gomez said. 'You have to be patient, and once you get your chance, then you can go for it. That's what I had to do in baseball. That's what I had to do on my mission. I don't think I've reached my potential at all, and there's a lot of room to grow.'

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