HAMPTON — Wayne Gomes is one of the most accomplished baseball players in Peninsula-area history. A star at Old Dominion and fourth overall draft pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, Gomes appeared in 321 major-league games as a reliever over six seasons.
His favorite memories include his first MLB appearance, for the Phillies in 1997, and his first win and save shortly thereafter, but there were other big moments. He had a front-row seat to many of Barry Bonds’ 73 homers as a member of the San Francisco Giants in 2001, and he pitched in Fenway Park as part of the Boston Red Sox staff a year later.
But now Gomes has another baseball goal, hardly less challenging than making the majors. Gomes has long wished to return to his alma mater at Phoebus High and make the baseball program respectable.
Respectability is something the Phantoms have enjoyed only occasionally in more than four decades of existence, but Gomes now takes his turn attempting to build the Phantoms into a winner as an assistant to first-year varsity coach Michael Jackson.
Gomes, who owns the Virginia Baseball Academy — an indoor baseball hitting and training facility in Hampton — said he has been asked often by Phoebus athletic directors during the past decade to coach at the school. He came aboard this year, he said, because he has more time now that his kids are grown up.
“I’m extremely excited and just couldn’t put it off any longer,” Gomes said. “I’ve always wanted to coach high school baseball, and there’s no other job I’d want.”
The school's baseball team faces a daunting climb to competitiveness. The Phantoms opened the 2019 season with losses of 19-10 and 13-1 to Heritage, a program that has almost always occupied one of the lowest rungs of the Peninsula District ladder since it opened 23 years ago.
Gomes is unfazed. He came in understanding that Phoebus lacks baseball talent at the moment, but adds, “I’m in this for the long haul.”
While other PD coaches are spending time on situational baseball, Gomes says he is helping teach players the fundamentals of pitching, hitting and fielding. That’s fine with him, because he has an ally in Jackson, who gives him lots of latitude coaching-wise and because their players are so willing to learn.
“Coach Gomes is definitely an asset,” Jackson said. “He’s done everything I’ve asked and more.
“He knows a lot more than I do about pitching and catching, so I’m going to let him run with it. That’s pretty much his baby.”
Added Gomes: “I love this group of kids. Guys like Deity Summers, Bradley Cole, Jarred Keith and Joe Ward are extremely hungry and responding to what I’m teaching.
“The culture of Phoebus baseball has never been good, but it just boils down to leadership and instruction, and having somebody hungry enough to go out there and teach the kids. I don’t think there’s anybody better than me to do that.”
In that way, Gomes hopes to follow in the footsteps of Phoebus boys basketball coach James Daniel and football coach Jeremy Blunt. Both guided their teams to state finals this school year and are also respected for preparing their players to go to college, as athletes or not.
“The football and basketball programs were bad at one time, and now they’re great," Gomes said. "Why not the baseball program?”
Marty O’Brien, 757-247-4963, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @MartyOBrienDP