Rio de Janeiro: Yan Gomes says he`s coming of age in Major League Baseball as the first Brazilian-born player in league history, taking on a regular role as catcher for the Cleveland Indians.
After a spell with the Toronto Blue Jays, he has begun to hold down a regular slot after joining Cleveland a year ago.
Having spent the run-up to Christmas in his homeland on the MLB Ambassador Tour, Gomes says he wants to make baseball more visible in the football-obsessed nation of Brazil, the host of next year`s FIFA World Cup.
"When I arrived (in North America) I saw I was not just playing for myself but for a whole country. That motivated me," Gomes said in an interview published Friday by a leading Brazilian sports daily.
One of his duties as an MLB ambassador saw him help run a clinic for youngsters in Mogi das Cruzes, where Gomes started as a child.
The town in Sao Paulo state is also the hometown of Brazil and Barcelona football superstar Neymar.
Gomes, 26, is a major fan of the striker and the football club Santos, where Neymar started out before heading for the Nou Camp.
"I am a santista. I have been since I was a child," said Gomes, who wore number 68 with the Blue Jays but has taken the number 10 jersey with the Indians.
"That`s because of Neymar," who also wears the `Pele` number for Brazil, Gomes said.
Gomes has become something of a trailblazer as compatriot Andre Rienzo this year joined the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher.
Gomes helped his country to qualify for this year`s World Baseball Classic, where the samba stars under Barry Larkin were bested by Japan, Cuba and China.
Having started to make an impression with the Indians, Gomes elected not to play in the event itself and concentrate on his club progression.
MLB International is seeking to build on the momentum from Brazil`s Classic appearance earlier this year, with veteran pitcher Latroy Hawkins serving as a pitching instructor at the MLB Brazil Elite Camp from Feb. 2-12 in Ibiuna.
There, players receive major league instruction from top professional coaches and put their talents on display for major league scouts, including former major leaguers Steve Finley and John Mizerock.
In Toronto, Gomes said, the club wanted him to try a variety of positions whereas in Cleveland he says he has found his spot.
He says both Indians` executive vice-president Chris Antonetti and Manager Terry Francona had made him feel wanted.
"The respect they had for me motivated me," he said. "They spoke of me as the future catcher of the team and had a plan for me."
As an ambassador, Gomes said he hopes to persuade MLB to one day to play a match in Brazil, as has happened in recent months with NBA teams coming to the Latin American country.
"I want to help Brazilian baseball to grow and bring more Brazilians into the league," he said.