MESA – Rio Gomez has pitched hundreds of innings since his father first introduced him to baseball.
But Wednesday was different.
Representing Colombia, his mother’s home country, the Arizona native pitched in his hometown for the first time since his father, longtime baseball reporter Pedro Gomez, died on Super Bowl Sunday two years ago. And Rio was facing the A’s, a team his dad covered for the San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee before joining the Arizona Republic and later ESPN.
Rio’s mom, Sandi, was in the stands at Hohokam Stadium for the exhibition game and said the scenario couldn’t have been much better.
“It just seemed like the perfect game,” Sandi said.
Gomez, who was raised in Arizona, got to pitch in front of his mother, friends and a crowd of roughly 2,000 who watched Team Colombia tune-up for the World Baseball Classic with a 3-2 win over the A’s.
Rio, 28, is a left-handed pitcher in the Boston Red Sox organization. Picked in the 36th round of the 2017 draft, Rio pitched a scoreless seventh inning – allowing one hit and striking out one.
“Being able to come back and get to wear Colombia for my mom, it’s just like everything’s coming full circle,” Rio said.
Sandi, wearing a Colombian soccer jersey, was overcome with emotion as she watched her son and the rest of the team.
“I was listening to the Colombian anthem and my heart just swells with pride,” she said. “He’s playing for my homeland in his hometown and there’s nothing better than that.”
The only thing missing from the perfect scene was Pedro.
Pedro passed away of cardiac arrest on Feb. 7, 2021, at 58, but Sandi knows he’d be proud of their son.
“He’d just be beaming with pride,” Sandi said. “I know that he’s with Rio today for sure and I think he’d be so excited. He would be pacing back and forth when he starts pitching because that’s what he always did.”
In his 35-year journalism career, Pedro never got to cover his son in the majors, but he covered more than 20-All Star games and 25 World Series and probably was best known for his coverage of Barry Bonds during the former Giants’ pursuit of the all-time home run record.
But to Rio, Pedro was a devoted parent and the one who introduced him to baseball.
“He was a great father,” said Rio, who has two siblings, Dante and Sierra. “When he was home, he was making dinner and running errands and going to our practices and hanging out with us.”
Rio said he was about 3 when his dad introduced him to the sport. Rio called his dad his “number one fan.”
“He was everything in my baseball career,” Rio said.
Rio’s dad left a lasting impression on others as well. He was known for making people smile, asking good questions and being a positive influence overall.
“Pedro was one of the kindest, most joyous kind of guys that you could be around,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “He always had a smile on his face and I really enjoyed talking to him and sharing stories about baseball.”
Rio does not remember much from his dad’s days of covering the A’s – Pedro was in the Bay Area during the “Bashbrothers” era – but he does remember going to spring training games at Papago Sports Complex with his dad before the A’s moved to Mesa.
“He didn’t even cover the A’s anymore and we’d walk around the stadium and everyone, every single person who worked there knew him – the security people, parking people, the clubhouse workers, everyone,” Rio said.
Rio sounds like his father and even looks like him a little bit, too. Rio also wears a bracelet that once belonged to his father and grandfather to honor them and carry Pedro with him.
“After his passing, I’ve worn it every single day,” Rio said. “It’s just that little piece of him that goes everywhere I go.”
Sandi says there’s more that connects them, though. The biggest similarity between her husband and son is their sense of perseverance. She compared Pedro’s start as a statistician in Miami to Rio’s journey to the Red Sox organization.
“Rio didn’t make his high school team his senior year, but he’s continued to persevere and move forward,” she said.
Rio, who graduated from Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee and played for the University of Arizona, has posted a combined 3.27 career ERA and 241 strikeouts as he has climbed through the minor leagues. Last season he pitched in 24 games for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, recording 41 strikeouts and 1.667 WHIP. This year he’s looking to progress in the Red Sox organization and thinks the World Baseball Classic could help.
“It can’t hurt,” he said. “Regardless of what’s going to happen with the Red Sox, for me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
On Wednesday, it was the first time Rio stepped onto the field representing his mother’s home country Colombia. Sandra was born in Colombia and playing for the team was a dream come true for Rio.
“You look down and you see the lettering,” he said, “(and) it’s just a special moment, a special feeling.”
Team Colombia will face Mexico, Great Britain, Canada and the United States starting Saturday at Chase Field, a ballpark that Rio knows well.
”I mean, (I’m) 6 or 7 years old and the Diamondbacks won the World Series, and they were my team,” he said of watching the 2001 World Series while his father covered it. “I remember going to games as a kid all the time. And so it’s, it’s gonna be pretty awesome to be on the other side of the fence this time.
“I already try imagining what it’s gonna be like, but I know whatever I imagined won’t be nearly as good as it’s actually going to be.”