Sixty-two voices on Pedro Gomez, one for each year of his life.
(Contributed)
The Here & Now

Missing his pal, Pedro: Local author produces a stirring memorial to his good friend and iconic ESPN voice

As a publisher, Soquel’s Steve Kettmann gathered together 62 notable figures to pay tribute to his close friend, and a man who seemed to touch everyone he met, longtime ESPN reporter and baseball writer Pedro Gomez.

Earlier this year, on Super Bowl Sunday to be exact, Steve Kettmann lost his closest friend.

Pedro Gomez was a celebrated journalist and a famous name in the world of baseball, largely for his reporting for ESPN and as a writer for the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, and other newspapers. On Feb. 7, he collapsed and died of a heart attack at his home in Arizona.

Steve Kettmann with his wife Sarah (left) and daughter Coco at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods in Soquel.
Steve Kettmann with his wife Sarah (left) and daughter Coco at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods in Soquel.
(Courtesy Brad Mangin)

The news was an emotional body blow for Kettmann, the Soquel-based journalist, editor, and author of several books about baseball and other topics. The two men had been tight for close to 30 years. Born the same month in 1962, Kettmann and Gomez had become fast friends when they were reporters for rival papers covering the Oakland A’s during the 1990s.

“Technically, we were competitors,” said Kettmann who worked for the San Francisco Chronicle when Gomez was at the Bee, “but we saw it more as conspirators in a grand adventure, and co-authors, really, of a kind of tribute to the life of writing about baseball.”

On Tuesday, July 13, Kettmann will be the host of a virtual book event, sponsored by Bookshop Santa Cruz. In hand he will have “Remember Who You Are: What Pedro Gomez Showed Us About Baseball and Life,” the new book published by Kettmann’s imprint Wellstone Books and on which he served as editor.

VIRTUAL EVENT

Remember Who You Are: What Pedro Gomez Showed Us About Baseball and Life

Editor Steve Kettmann and contributors Sarina Morales and Mark Kreidler will discuss their new book dedicated to their good friend who was lost in February.

“Remember” is remarkable for several reasons. The book contains 62 heartfelt essays (commemorating Gomez’s birth year) from many of the biggest names in baseball today from fellow journalists (Ray Ratto, Peter Gammons, Howard Bryant, Keith Olbermann) to famed players, managers, and baseball executives (Dusty Baker, Tony LaRussa, Max Scherzer, Sandy Alderson). Kettmann himself writes an introduction of considerable pathos and mourning for his old friend.

Just as amazing as the finished product are the circumstances of the book’s publication. As a publisher (and the co-director of the writers’ retreat The Wellstone Center in the Redwoods in the Soquel hills), Kettmann had compiled, edited, and published a similar book of essays in late 2020 called “Now What?,” a diverse collection of political (and not-so-political) figures meditating on life after Donald Trump.

By the nature of its theme, “Now What?” had to be published quickly and Kettmann had it available a few weeks after Election Day, a feat of breakneck speed in the often tortoise-like world of publishing. He had, in fact, just staggered over the finish line with “Now What?” when he got the devastating news about Gomez.

So, even weighed down by grief, Kettmann began the exhausting process again of corralling a roster of well-known writers, editing, publishing, distributing and marketing a book in a narrow window of time. The result is a moving memorial that paints as full a picture of its subject as a years-in-the-making biography.

Steve Kettmann watches a delivery of books arrive with his two daughters.
Steve Kettman watches a delivery of books arrive with his two daughters.
(Courtesy Brad Mangin)

Though the book is steeped in the stories and personalities of Major League Baseball, Kettmann’s aim was to transcend Gomez’s role in the coverage of the game to find something more human and universal. In the days following Gomez’s death, he noticed the themes that kept emerging from the impromptu tributes online.

“The qualities that Pedro espoused and stood for,” he said, “treating everybody the same, giving people a chance to show you who they are, feeling lucky at the good fortune you have, but also standing up for what you would call moral principles, doing something the right way. I felt that these were important qualities to celebrate.”

Gomez was the son of Cuban refugees, who arrived in the U.S. shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis (and just three weeks before baby Pedro was born). He grew up largely in Detroit (“He always considered himself a Tigers fan,” said Kettmann) and in Miami. As a baseball writer, he covered many of the biggest stories in the sport over the last 25 years (including Barry Bonds’s controversial march to the all-time home run record).

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But the most memorable story of Gomez’s career might have been the role he played covering the historic 2016 exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, the first visit by an MLB team to Cuba in a generation, a game attended by then-President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro (as well as by Gomez and Kettmann).

While reporting for ESPN, Gomez told host Scott Van Pelt that he was able to spread the ashes of his late father and brother in Cuba. “It was their wishes to have this done,” Gomez said through tears on live television, “and I was very honored and happy and proud to be able to fulfill a wish that each of them had.”

“I knew I wasn’t going to feel any better about Pedro whatever I did,” said Kettmann, reflecting on the last five months since the death of his friend. “People ask me if (working on this project) was cathartic or therapeutic. And the answer is no, not at all. It’s as therapeutic as rubbing salt into a wound.

“But I think that that raw wound is a testament to the fact that this is someone who was a great friend to me, who I shared so much with, who was so important to me. And my awareness of how many others were all part of that constellation of people connecting was very, very intense.”