FORT MYERS, Fla. - The King, Big Papi, arrived at the Red Sox's spring training facility Tuesday and the loyal subjects of Red Sox Nation went ga-ga, clamoring for autographs, begging for high-fives and screaming for but a glance of acknowledgment from David Ortiz.
While Ortiz spent the day getting re-established in Fort Myers, watching workouts from the first-base dugout with his arm around son D'Angelo and getting in a token jog, another of Boston's conquering heroes, Jonny Gomes, participated in his first full spring workout.
Unlike Big Papi, Sox fans and even his manager needed to do a double-take to recognize the recently shaved Gomes.
"It's just a beard. No one died. The beard didn't hit a fastball or throw one all year, so I think we'll be all right," said Gomes, who said he wanted his beard -- a trademark of the 2013 Red Sox -- to "go out a champ."
Gomes' 6-1, 230-pound frame underwent a more substantial alteration this offseason -- the addition of a large, multicolor tattoo to his torso. Prominently featuring the beard, along with an American flag, the World Series trophy and a Boston duck boat, the tattoo depicts his life-altering experience in Boston last year.
"I wanted to come up with something that documented last year -- worst to first, my first year with the Sox, Boston Strong, the beard. It would probably make a heck of a T-shirt or bumper sticker, but I'm the guy that gets the tattoo," said Gomes, who endeared himself to New England fans in April with a passionate tribute to the Boston Marathon bombing victims and throughout the season with timely hitting.
A heart attack survivor who also survived an auto accident that claimed his friend's life as a teen, Gomes chronicles his life through his body art.
"My kids' names, my wedding date, my tribute to the military and to my best friend who passed away," said Gomes, who has been with five teams in the last seven seasons. "I catch grief here and there about having a big-league logo on my body, but I wouldn't give anyone grief if they had an Arizona Diamondbacks World Series ring in our clubhouse and they wore it all the time."
Like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara and David Ross, Gomes was one of Boston's veteran newcomers who improved the chemistry and performance of the 2013 Red Sox. In part-time duty during the season, he hit .247 (.346 with runners in scoring position) with 13 homers, four of them as a pinch hitter.
Noted for his helmet punt following his June 18 walk-off homer against Tampa Bay, Gomes added to his share of Boston folklore in the postseason. The Sox went 6-0 when he started in leftfield in the first two playoff rounds, then rode his three-run homer to a Game 4 World Series victory at St. Louis.
Manager John Farrell rode Gomes' swagger in the postseason, electing to forgo his season-long platoon with leftfielder Daniel Nava.
"When he was in the lineup, I felt he enabled our team to have a different feel," Farrell said. "There was an edge. Jonny brought an intangible that others fed off. In that short window, we just felt we were a team that projected that image and that edge."
Gomes' impact was recognized during Boston's victory parade. When the duck boats paused on Boylston Street at the site of the marathon bombing, Gomes and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia placed the World Series trophy on the finish line as singer Ronan Tynan performed "God Bless America."
"To have the opportunity from the Red Sox to have the World Series trophy on my duck boat was pretty humbling," Gomes said. "But to be able to drop that trophy down within feet of the bombing -- when the story was written, I don't think that was even in there."
A California native, he says his connection with the city of Boston remains very real.
"All the happy thoughts [of 2013] don't erase the tragedy and the lives that were lost," Gomes said. "I get real-life goose bumps. None of it was fake. None of it was to get Red Sox Nation on my side or Red Sox Nation to love me. I've always rallied around my teammates as family and rallied around my community as if it was my hometown."