In a moment custom-built for one of those trendy ultra-serious sports documentaries, Mike Gambino was in the middle of a sentence when he interrupted himself with a curse.
“I really wanted him back,” he said, after a somewhat uncomfortable pause. “Sorry about that. One of our kids — I was hoping he would come back next year, but he just got drafted.”
Gambino is the head coach of the Boston College Eagles baseball team. Just about any way you slice it, the Eagles had a tough season in 2022. They were brutalized by conference rivals, going 5-25 against ACC teams. One of the few bright spots on the team was infielder Luke Gold, who the Tigers selected with the 147th pick in the MLB draft. Gambino was eager to talk about his star infielder when we reached out to Boston College, and he took the time to sit down with me for ten minutes during Day 3 of the draft.
To hear Gambino tell it, Gold was the real deal from day one.
“Bringing him in, we thought he had the chance to be a middle-of-the-order ACC bat. So if that’s what you think he is, you’re thinking he’s going to be a pretty good prospect. He played shortstop in high school, but he obviously wasn’t going to play shortstop here. He worked really hard to stay in the infield and we believed he could do that.”
Gambino and his staff nailed that evaluation. Gold became a one-man wrecking crew in the Eagles lineup. He got at-bats early on and he hit for a career .303/.374/.540 line at BC. The future of Gold’s career rests on what he’ll be able to do at the plate, and there seems to be very little question among evaluators about whether he’ll be able to hit in the minor leagues. Here’s how Gambino describes Gold’s skills on offense:
“He’s a power guy, but he’s a hit-ability guy also. He doesn’t strike out a ton for how much power I believe he’s gonna have, he doesn’t swing and miss a ton. I think what you’re gonna see is a guy who’s gonna hit, and that’s gonna turn into home runs. He’s not gonna be a home runs-first guy, he’s gonna hit and hit home runs”
“I explained that badly,” he continued with a self-conscious chuckle. “You know the kind of guy nowadays that hits .220 with 35 home runs and a bunch of strikeouts? That’s not Luke. Luke is gonna hit.”
Coaches will always find a place in the locker room for a guy who carries a big stick. That portends well for Gold’s future as long as he keeps raking. Unfortunately, there’s just not anywhere on the diamond you can place him defensively and feel really great about it.
He’s well-built without being overly muscular, but his lateral quickness and arm strength leave most evaluators unwilling to project him at the hot corner. His offensive profile could carry him up the ladder as a first baseman, but it doesn’t inspire confidence as an everyday first baseman in the majors. He could be a second baseman in a sports landscape that is friendly to the shift, but that could potentially be going the way of the dodo as well.
For Gambino’s part, he’s not willing to eliminate any of those possibilities.
“I think third base could be a possibility, I think second base could be a possibility. First base could be a possibility as well. He’s not going to play short, he has a good enough arm for third base. You have to remember, in terms of his development in college, he didn’t have a freshman spring because of COVID, and his freshman fall was not normal... we couldn’t do normal practices and everything. He had a junior year, but he had a weird thing and tweaked his back.”
“If you think about it, he’s sort of like a sophomore as far as his time on the field,” Gambino argued. “If you could see how hard he’s working, how much better he’s gotten, that’s the thing. Even though he’s a bat-first guy, I think this is a kid who has a chance to stay in the infield, I do.”
That wasn’t the only time Gambino went out of his way to praise Gold for his work ethic and character. The Boston College coach likes to prove his points by telling stories. Near the end of our conversation, he told me a story about his young son and daughter, Sonny and Callie, taking a particular liking to Gold. The trio bonded over fishing — a hobby Gambino said his children picked up inexplicably, as he knows nothing about catching fish.
“The season ended, and Luke texts me the next day, he says ‘Hey, look in my locker, I left something there for Sonny and Callie.’ And he’d went and bought them a bunch of hooks and lures and left them a little present. Like, what college kid does that? He’s never gonna see them again! But that’s just the kind of guy he is.”
As far as Gambino is concerned, the investment in Gold was well-made. Before coaching, he served as a member of Detroit’s scouting department with Dave Dombrowski’s staff in 2006. The continuity of Al Avila’s long tenure as GM means he still has relationships with members of the Tigers’ draft team in 2022. When his former colleagues approached him about Gambino about Gold, they had a simple question in mind, leading to another cinematic quote from the BC coach to wrap up our conversation.
“We would talk a little bit about his offense and his defense, but what they really wanted to know was ‘Do you believe in this kid?’ And I do. I really do.”