PHOENIX – Super Bowl Sunday was in full swing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers routing the Kansas City Chiefs when the gut punch landed.
It wasn’t another Tom Brady scoring pass that floored many sports followers, especially baseball lovers. It was the stunning news that ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez, 58, had died unexpectedly at his Valley home.
“He’s gone and I was shocked to be completely honest,” Diamondbacks Spanish-language broadcaster Oscar Soria said through an interpreter. “I had to check my sources to make sure that the news I was watching wasn’t false.”
To the shock of those who knew Gomez, it was true.
Fellow journalists, major league baseball players past and present, athletes in other sports such as Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and many fans took to social media to express their dismay or to share stories of a sports journalist known as a great storyteller and a better human being.
There wasn’t a nicer, more authentic person at ESPN than Pedro Gomez.
In an industry lacking them, he was the genuine article.
Eternally happy & upbeat — you couldn’t not smile when around him.
I’m so sad. A terrible loss of a wonderful man, Dad & husband.
— Kevin Connors (@kevconnorsespn) February 8, 2021
I will miss so much about our dear friend Pedro. Mostly, his kind and gentle nature. He loved so many things, he loved the game. He loved the late-60’s Tigers, passed down from his grandfather. We will miss the chats about those teams. And so much more. RIP, dear friend, Pedro.
— Tim Kurkjian (@Kurkjian_ESPN) February 8, 2021
In more than 30 years covering baseball, Gomez gained a reputation for being a talented, fair and respected reporter while influencing and mentoring the next generation of sports journalists.
ESPN reporter Phil Murphy was covering Super Bowl LV in Tampa when he learned that his friend and co-worker had passed.
“It was instant sadness and a gut punch,” Murphy said. “Everything you see on social media about Pedro, it’s completely true. I’m sad ever since I heard the news, and I’m sad that I won’t get to talk to him again.”
Murphy and Gomez sat together during four games of the 2019 World Series, including Game 7. They kept box scores and talked about baseball.
“The guy just oozed wisdom,” Murphy said. “It’s not just a loss for baseball or for the ESPN family, it was a loss for the whole world of journalism.”
Gomez, the son of Cuban refugees, always took pride in his roots. In 2016, the Tampa Bay Rays played against the Cuban National Baseball Team and Gomez was sent on assignment to cover the event. During his time in Cuba, Gomez spread the ashes of his late father and brother at their former home there.
“It was very emotional to me. It was their wish to have this done,” Gomez told ESPN SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt in a 2016 report from the island nation. “I was very honored, happy and proud to be able to fulfill a wish that each of them had.”
Gomez went to ESPN from The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com, where he was a national baseball writer and then sports columnist. He kept his home in the Ahwatukee neighborhood of Phoenix after joining the “Worldwide Leader.”
He was a regular at Cactus League and Arizona Diamondbacks games, but also became a familiar face within the halls of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. He visited the campus multiple times as a guest speaker in a variety of classes to spread insight, wisdom and support to many aspiring journalists who wanted to be like him.
Brett Kurland, director of sports programs at Cronkite, often asked Gomez to speak to Cronkite students.
“Pedro was a wonderful reporter, but an even greater human being,” Kurland said, “He was tremendous out in the field with our students. He would always go out of his way to introduce himself to them, ask them what story they were working on and he would introduce them to the players. He just was so remarkably helpful and generous with his time and his wisdom.”
Often, those connections lasted well beyond graduation day.
Matt Lively was one of the students who learned from Gomez and remained in touch with him beyond Arizona State.
“I know I’m not the only one, but he meant a lot to me because he was such a great mentor to me,” Lively said. “There are so many Cronkite students who have that same story and it goes to show how good of a guy he was.”
Gomez was so helpful to Lively that he agreed to appear in a one-on-one interview with Lively when Lively landed his first job in Bakersfield, California.
contact with. He told me this during that last interview and it really meant everything to me. He was truly one of the good guys in this business and I can’t state how much I’ll miss him.
Rest easy, friend. pic.twitter.com/4zlSShsCZN
— Matt Lively (@mattblively) February 8, 2021
Nikki Balich, executive director of the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, viewed Gomez more as a friend than a sports media personality.
“Anytime you were down or needed some advice, you could always call him,” Balich said, “He was unbelievable. He made an indelible mark on my life. When he was your friend, he was your friend, and he was one of the nicest men on the planet.”
Gomez was also an Arizona Sports Hall of Fame trustee.
Gomez is survived by his wife Sandra, sons Rio – a pitcher in the Boston Red Sox organization – and Dante and a daughter, Sierra.