MILWAUKEE -- At the time, Carlos Gomez was relatively unknown, a young prospect in the Mets' farm system trying to fight his way onto a Major League roster.
Gomez was stretching on the field before a Spring Training game against the Red Sox in Florida when an unfamiliar voice called out to him: "Hey kid!"
It belonged to Manny Ramirez, the slugger whom Gomez frequently watched while growing up in the Dominican Republic. Though they only shared a brief conversation that day, it became the basis for a close friendship between Gomez, one of baseball's biggest personalities today, and Ramirez, one of baseball's biggest personalities of all time.
"After that, every time we saw each other, we talked to each other," Gomez said. "Then when I was in Minnesota, he got my number, I got his number, and we started calling each other. Then, he played on my team in winter ball and we practiced together, and that's how everything started."
The 28-year-old Gomez has become a bona fide star over the past three seasons in Milwaukee, and he credits Ramirez with being a major influence in the development of his career. The center fielder called Ramirez "one of the greatest human beings I have ever come across" in an Instagram post wishing Ramirez a happy 42nd birthday on May 30.
As Gomez moved in and out of starting roles for the first five years of his career after first being called up in 2007, Ramirez was a steady source of encouragement for the young outfielder.
"Every time I have a good game or even a bad game, he'll call me," Gomez said. "[He'll say,] 'Hey kid, you did a really nice job. Just follow what I say, believe that you're good and everything will go a good way. And when things don't happen like that, come with more intensity the next day, and you'll see things are going to turn around.'"
But Gomez says that Ramirez has provided more than just motivation. Manny has helped him hone his approach at the plate, teaching him how to work counts and exploit the tendencies of individual pitchers. Over time, Gomez says he's learned that long-term success is as much mental as it is physical, and Ramirez has given him advice on how to prepare for each game.
|"Every time I have a good game or even a bad game, he'll call me. [He'll say,] 'Hey kid, you did a really nice job. Just follow what I say, believe that you're good and everything will go a good way.'"|
|-- Carlos Gomez|
When they're not working out, Gomez said they do leisure activities together, everything from barbecues to beach visits to off-roading and hunting.
Gomez said the way Ramirez has mentored him shows that he'll be successful in his new role as a Triple-A player/coach for the Chicago Cubs.
"I've learned a lot from him," Gomez said. "I know he made a lot of mistakes when he was younger. He's a great guy. That's a good call by the Cubs to sign him and put him in the Minor Leagues to be a player/coach. That guy's going to help that organization in a lot of things."
Many of those lessons were imparted in joint training sessions during the offseason. Gomez says all his experiences with Ramirez contradict the popular caricature of "Manny being Manny."
"When people don't know him, they think Manny's crazy and weird," Gomez said. "He's different. He's a hard worker. He calls me when I'm in the Dominican at 7:30 a.m. like, 'Hey, let's go to the gym.' We go until 2 p.m. We have the attitude to work hard every time."
When Ramirez was hired by the Cubs in late May, many questioned the hire because of his two violations of MLB's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, which led to suspensions. In an interview in March, Ramirez admitted to making a mistake by using PEDs, and Gomez said he hasn't asked about it in their relationship.
"I don't like to remind my friends about mistakes," Gomez said. "Everybody [who was suspended for PEDs] has a reason why they did that, and he doesn't have to explain it to me. He has to explain it to himself.
"I'm going to be on his side and I'm going to support him, because it's a friend. He's always been there with positive stuff in my career and my life. [He] talks to me like a father, and he makes me say, 'Just put it in the past and continue to go forward.'"
Gomez took a similar stance toward others who had been suspended for using PEDs, including teammate Ryan Braun. Gomez said he felt those players had enough talent to play in the Major Leagues without using PEDs and that they had served their punishment.
For his part, Ramirez issued a statement when the Cubs hired him, stating that he wanted to move past his transgressions and continue to mentor young players.
"I'm at the stage of my life and career where I really want to give something back to the game that I love -- the game that has meant so much to me and done so much for me and my family," Ramirez said in the statement. "I know I am nearing the end of my playing days, but I have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation -- both what to do and what not to do."
And as Ramirez works to nurture Chicago's up-and-comers, it's a safe bet that he'll continue to help Gomez with his postgame phone calls.
"When I was a little kid, I always watched Manny," Gomez said. "To have the opportunity to have him be my friend, sometimes I don't believe it."
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.