Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gamel Hopes to Outdo Big Brother in Bigs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gamel Hopes to Outdo Big Brother in Bigs

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette

As a teenager, Ben Gamel thought he fully grasped how difficult it'd be to reach the pinnacle of playing Major League Baseball.

While he was still a Bishop Kenny High outfielder, Ben watched his older brother, Mat, get there with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 after four-plus seasons in the minors. So Ben sort of understood how taxing the process could be. But not until Ben pushed through six seasons in the New York Yankees organization - before his big-league call-up two weeks ago lasted five games and eight at-bats - did it totally hit him.

"Mat sleeps easy at night, he lived his dream," Ben said in a phone interview before suiting up Friday for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, a Yankees affiliate. "I didn't appreciate it as much then as I do now, just the grind it took to get there. I got so much respect for what [Mat] did."

The Gamels - believed to be the first brother duo from the Jacksonville area to play Major League Baseball - represent the story of so many ballplayers growing up. It starts with dreaming big from the time they're little boys, not really knowing whether they can get to the major leagues, but they hang on to that ambition until reality dictates otherwise because it's too precious to let go.

Mat is 30 now, working for a Jacksonville site development company called Dirt Work and performing multiple jobs, mostly laying pipes. He hasn't put on a major league uniform since his career flamed out in Milwaukee after twice tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, followed by a torn meniscus that derailed his comeback in 2014 with the Atlanta Braves before it even got started.

The beginning of the end came on May 1, 2012, when his knee shattered the first time chasing a foul pop-up in San Diego. Gamel, just 21 games into replacing Prince Fielder as the Brewers' starting first baseman, was out for the season. Nine months later, in first full-squad workout of spring training, he tore the same ACL again.

He never played in the big leagues again. Despite playing 106 games over parts of five seasons, it still gnaws at Mat that it didn't last longer.

"I miss it every day. It's the big leagues, it's the best," said Mat. "Travel is better, hotels are better, the fields are unbelievable and playing in front of 30,000 every night.

"Making it to the big leagues is what I always wanted. How can anybody look back and regret that? Now I didn't make enough [money] to where I could sit back and not do something. It is what it is. I just miss it."

But from the moment the Gamels signed that first contract, they understood that dream is a roll of the dice. Less than 10 percent of ballplayers who turn pro ever reach the big leagues. They have to navigate through injuries, trades, the whims of their employers, and mostly, the minor-league grind. …

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