Bob Uecker, a broadcast Hall of Famer with a maximum grade on the 20-80 scouts' congeniality scale, is still loving life as he eases back on his workload in the Milwaukee Brewers' radio booth. He'll spend this summer calling games in his inimitable manner, signing autographs, reminiscing about the 25th anniversary of "Major League" and giving Hank the Dog the occasional scratch behind the ears on a slow day.
Uecker also adheres to a singular baseball ritual. Each day in the clubhouse, hotel lobby or wherever life might take him, he makes sure to connect with Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez for a little male bonding. The 80-year-old raconteur and 28-year-old human tools factory gird for faux battle, and smack hands with enough force to create an echo, while simultaneously shouting some preordained mantra to pump them up.
"We have to do it every day, even though he hurts the [crap] out of my hand sometimes," Uecker says. "He calls me Big Papi. He's one of my favorite players."
If Uecker wants a spot in the Carlos Gomez Fan Club, he might have to call ahead for reservations.
Gomez has yet to emerge as a national sensation, but Brewers fans, opposing pitchers and baseball's WAR mongers know all about him. In the course of hitting 24 homers, stealing 40 bases and playing out-of-this-world defense in 2013, Gomez logged a wins above replacement of 8.9, tying Mike Trout for first in the majors in the Baseball-Reference.com rankings.
With a strong start this season (he's hitting .333 with a 1.023 OPS), Gomez continues to embrace the predictions of stardom thrown his way when he signed with the New York Mets out of his native Dominican Republic in 2002. Given the baggage that Ryan Braun carries in the aftermath of his Biogenesis suspension, it's easy to see Gomez emerging as a more prominent face of the Milwaukee franchise in the years to come.
Indeed, Gomez and shortstop Jean Segura adorn the cover of Milwaukee's 2014 media guide, and Gomez was the center of attention Saturday when he received his first career Gold Glove Award before 42,828 fans at Miller Park. Latinos account for only about 13 percent of the population in Milwaukee County, but it's growing, and Gomez has the kind of appeal that can transcend cultures.
Braun, who marvels at Gomez's energy and fun-loving nature, is part of the fan club. He recalls how Gomez told him that he once ran a 3.7-second 40-yard dash in track shoes back home in the Dominican.
"I don't know what Usain Bolt runs," Braun says, "but that has to be some kind of all-time world record."
Braun is understandably dubious about the 40 time, but he has seen Gomez hit monstrous home runs in batting practice and chase down balls most humans can't reach in center field. He's also convinced Gomez could throw 95 mph if the Brewers ever decided to put him on the pitcher's mound.
"I can't imagine anybody having a package of tools that's more impressive than his," Braun says. "I've said it before, but he's the only guy in the league who has all five tools and can rap in multiple languages."