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Former Softball: Gomez gave hitting a deeper meaning for Cajuns

Bruce Brown, The Advertiser, July 15, 2017

athleticnetwotk@louisiana.edu  (Republished from the Spotlight Feature on Former Athletes in March, 2017).

Danyele Gomez hits a grand slam April 17, 2003. (Photo: John Rowland/File/The Advertiser)

This just in — the home run Danyele Gomez hit in the 2003 Women’s College World Series has finally stopped rolling.

Investigators located the ball about a mile outside of Oklahoma City and have identified it as the one Gomez ripped against Texas ace Cat Osterman for a 2-1 Ragin’ Cajun lead in that WCWS battle.

Truth be told, the screaming line drive shot over the left field fence was actually found that day. But the hit was the kind that spawns legends.

Gomez was wrapping up an All-American freshman campaign, barely a year removed from Cabrini High School in New Orleans, and had helped to spark UL’s return to the World Series stage after a seven-year absence.

“That home run stands out for me,” said Gomez, who eventually had 83 collegiate shots from which to choose. “My family members were there. My parents, and all four of my grandparents. It was hard for them to make the trip to Oklahoma City, so it was a big deal.

“All four of them have passed away now, but they used to talk about that home run I hit in the World Series.”

The only child of Jimmy and Analyn Gomez gave the family plenty to talk about in her Cajun career.

“One time, we were playing at home and it was cold, with the wind in your face,” Gomez said. “We were down by a run and I was the go-ahead run at the plate. I hit a line drive off the board behind the outfield that had all our NCAA years on it.

“My grandfather talked about it for years. I’m glad they got to have those little moments.”

Despite those highlight memories, Gomez wasn’t a Dave Kingman — feast or famine, homer or nothing — kind of hitter.

“I don’t think I thought of hitting home runs,” she said. “That’s not how it works. My job was to move the runner along, to get on base. I didn’t think about statistics. I couldn’t tell you what my numbers were, then or now.”

For the record, Gomez had 83 home runs and 588 total bases (both school records), with 283 hits, 209 runs, 246 runs batted in and a .745 slugging percentage.

As a senior in 2006, she had 30 home runs, 92 hits, 77 runs, 199 total bases, a .442 batting average and a .957 slugging percentage to secure a third All-American season at UL. She got a hit in 50 of 62 games and scored in 47 of those contests.

She was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2003, and its Player of the Year in 2005 and 2006 when she was also All-Tournament

The Cajuns finished 47-11, 60-8, 51-10 and 50-12 (208-41) with four straight NCAA Tournament berths.

Not an easy road

It wasn’t all easy, though, no matter how it looked.

“I had a rough summer before my first fall at UL,” Gomez said. “I had good experience, but I couldn’t get it together. Going into the fall, I put a lot of work in.

“Coach Mike (Lotief) taught the swing differently from what I had been taught my whole life. There was no intermediate. I had to figure it out. He focuses more on the hips than the arms. As women, we’re not that strong in the arms. We’re stronger in the lower half, and need to use that to our advantage.

“We worked on it, studied film, compared ourselves. The transition was hard, of course. It gets worse before it gets better.”

Apparently, though, she was a quick study.

“I started to get comfortable at the end of the fall, early that first spring,” Gomez said. “I don’t remember it becoming second nature. I was always working on it.”

The 2003 Cajuns learned quickly enough to survive a rugged NCAA Regional (6-0 over San Diego State, 1-0 over Fullerton, 1-0 over Oklahoma State, then 2-9 and 6-4 against Oregon) and reach the World Series.

They lost to Texas 5-2 and UCLA 5-1, finishing 8th in the country, and never got back to the WCWS despite knocking on the door with Gomez as the low-key leader.

“I was always going to put in the work for each team, each season,” she said. “If something was broke, I’d work on fixing it. Everybody has slumps. Everybody has the monkey on their back at some point.

“I’m a quiet person, so I guess I led more by example. We’d figure the hitting out, try to work with each other. Each of us had a little part of hitting, but how you understand something might not be the way some others see it.

“i tried not to let it (get) in my mind. I put it on the back burner and take things game-by-game, week-to-week. I was always the first at practice and the last to leave, figuring out how to fix it.”

Versatile athlete

Gomez excelled in softball, volleyball and basketball in her youth, making travel teams in both softball and volleyball and focusing on those two sports at Cabrini.

She thought about playing her two favorite sports in college, too, but her academic load as a pre-med major made that too ambitious.

“The academic side of it was hard,” she said. “Sometimes we’d miss class for a week and a half. I remember coming back to organic chemistry, and I was lost. It was really tough. Everybody would study on the bus. The teachers did a good job helping us to catch up.”

Gomez grew up with athletics, as both parents were active.

“Mom played volleyball on weekends,” she said, “and Dad played softball. Sports was always there around. In fact, I got into softball after my volleyball team lost and I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

And it went beyond parental influence.

“When I was little, my grandpa would wad up newspaper into a ball, get a broomstick handle, and we’d go out in the backyard to play,” she said. “That’s a special memory for me.”

Gomez headed for medical school, then switched to nursing school. She spent four years in neo-natal care, then went back to school to become a nurse anesthetist.

“I’m where I need to be,” said Gomez. “Surgery can be scary. I help them through it, help them feel comfortable with it.”

Married last September, Gomez and her husband Christopher McDuff live in New Orleans, close to her parents.

Jimmy and Analyn were there every step of the way — and nearly every game — growing up, so there’s no reason to change a winning formula. That includes future McDuffs.

“I would hope so,” Gomez said. “Athletics teaches you a lot along the way, things like work ethic and teamwork, that  I’ve brought into my career.”

Gomez doesn’t hit tape measure home runs any more, but she’s still hitting life’s challenges out of the park.

“It seems like yesterday, but it’s been a while,” she said.

This story is part of an ongoing series at www.athleticnetwork.net, a website dedicated to preserving the history and traditions of almost 120 years of athletics at the University of Louisiana.