SARASOTA, Fla – Veteran minor leaguer Eddie Gamboa has never quit trying to reach his big league dream.
Drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 21st round from the University of California in 2008, he spent six seasons in the minors without ever getting past the Double-A level.
After he started his transition to becoming a new kind of pitcher, he had a short stint in Triple-A last season.
Last year, he reinvented himself as a knuckleballer, and it seemed like a good decision.
“It was a very difficult decision to make, but it has been the greatest decision that I’ve ever made thus far,” he said. “I am still learning a lot more with it right now; mixing with my other stuff. So I reinvented myself with it, but I am reinventing myself even today.”
The right-hander got his first chance to work with another knuckleballer when Phil Niekro was visiting Orioles minor-league camp.
Gamboa impressed the Hall of Famer and 318-game winner – the most victories by a knuckleball pitcher – and so he started his transition.
As an experimental year, over 16 starts with the Double-A Bowie Baysox he went 4-6 with a 3.64 ERA throwing his knuckleball about 50 per cent of the time. Still, he has a long way to master the pitch, but he’s already comfortable in his new role.
“I think I am prepared to pitch in the MLB,” he said. “I think you always have to try to get better, but the tools that I have right now with me, I think I can pitch in the highest level.”
Gamboa is at an unconventional age to start a major-league career but it should not be a problem, since unlike other pitchers, knuckleballers usually have their best years in their 30s. R.A Dickey was a 37-year-old in his Cy Young season in 2012 with the New York Mets.
The veteran Toronto Blue Jays pitcher is someone for the Orioles farmhand to model his game after.
“He went through the same thing that I’m going through right now,” Gamboa said. “Anytime I get to see him throw or anything like that I’m all in.
“I want to know his life and what he had to go through, so that I could understand and try to relate into it.”
The California native is optimistic about his future, but he’s cautious to be labeled as the next R.A Dickey.
“I hope so,” he said. “I hope so.”
Gamboa played his first big-league spring training game last week against the Tampa Bay Rays, and he pitched a scoreless sixth inning, including a strikeout by a 60-mph knuckleball.
Despite his initial reluctance to become a knuckleballer, he is nothing but proud to talk about it.
“This a thing new to me, but I was curious since I’ve watched [Tom] Candiotti pitch for the Dodgers; he was a knuckleballer,” he said. “And I got curious watching him throw and that’s how I am here today. People are curious about it, and I enjoy to talk about it.”