ST. PETERSBURG -- Jonny Gomes is known as a blue-collar ballplayer.

Rays fans have grown accustomed to watching the barrel-chested Gomes crash into things or dive headfirst to take an extra base. And he never gets cheated on a swing, which frequently leads to either a strikeout or a tape-measure home run.

Beneath Gomes' jersey beats the heart of a big softie. He comes from a disadvantaged background, so he remembers what it's like to struggle. And Gomes has great empathy for those struggling with problems out of their control, such as cancer and lupus, which is why he is passionate about being a part of "The Camp for a Cure" in his hometown of Petaluma, Calif.

According to its Web site (www.campforacure.org), the camp is dedicated to raising money to aid in the research and treatment of cancer and lupus. Camp for a Cure is committed to providing the highest-quality instruction for youth, requesting -- but not requiring -- a minimal donation. All proceeds go to the American Cancer Society and the Lupus Foundation of America.

Gomes wanted to be part of something that gave back to his community using baseball to do so. The camp evolved from an initial desire to try to create the ideal youth baseball clinic where no child would be left out. The camp included Major League players, coaches and scouts -- all of whom volunteered their time free of charge. One good idea eventually led to another and it was decided to make the clinic into a fund-raiser, as well.

Gomes has been a part of the camp since 2004.

"It's been kind of fun to watch it grow," Gomes said. "It's a great cause and a great value for any of the kids attending. I'm real happy to be a part of it and glad I can do something to help out."

The camp, which takes place on Nov. 10, is one of Gomes' few offseason activities prior to beginning his preparation for the 2008 season.

Gomes finished 2007 with a .244 batting average, 17 home runs and 49 RBIs. He is not yet sure if he'll play in Mexico during the offseason, but he will decide before December.

"Some of that [deciding whether he will play in Mexico or not] will be based on if [the Rays] want me to work on a particular aspect of my game," said Gomes, who noted he has played in Mexico in the past to get at-bats and prove himself, which he believes he has done at this juncture.

After the 2006 season, Gomes spent the offseason rehabbing following season-ending shoulder surgery. This offseason will likely be spent just whipping his body into shape. Few players report to camp in shape to the degree that Gomes does.

Classified as a "Super Two" according to service time, Gomes is arbitration-eligible after making $407,800 in 2007. What the Rays have planned for Gomes in '08 is not yet known since the starting outfield is set, with Carl Crawford in left, B.J. Upton in center and Delmon Young in right. Much of what happens with Gomes could be determined by Rocco Baldelli's health.

If Baldelli is ready to play, it's likely he'll get a lot of time at designated hitter, and there is a chance Gomes could be traded. There are whispers about interest from several teams.

However, Gomes would like to remain a Ray.

"I like what's going on [with the Rays]," Gomes said. "I think the next couple of years are going to be really exciting, and I want to be a part of that."