Not long ago we relayed the news that 37-year-old Tomokazu Ohka—a former player with various North American baseball teams then with the Yokohama BayStars—has been developing a knuckleball as his top pitch in hopes of wangling his way back into Major League Baseball. Ohka had turned to the less-body-wrenching pitch after suffering a shoulder injury in 2011.
Looks like taking all the steps required to make a comeback, including the training to develop expertise in a difficult pitch, can indeed pave the way for a comeback. In December, just weeks after IKA posted about Ohka’s ambition, came the news that Ohka was signing a Minor League contract with his old team the Toronto Blue Jays. He will probably start the 2014 season pitching for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
No guarantees, but “It’s a no-lose situation for both sides,” observes MLB.com reporter Gregor Chisholm, “and Ohka will have the added benefit of working alongside former National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey during Spring Training.” Bluebirdbanter.com blogger Minor Leaguer (not his real name?) agrees that the chance to pick up knuckleball tips from Dickey, traded to the Blue Jays in late 2012, was a good reason for signing with the Blue Jays in particular (Ohka apparently also got nibbles from a couple other MLB teams).
During his decade-long tour with the MLB, Ohka played for the Blue Jays (2007) as well as for the Boston Red Sox (1999-2001), the Montreal Expos (2001-2004), the Washington Nationals (2005), the Milwaukee Brewers (2005-2006), and the Cleveland Indians (2009). He has been out of the majors since 2009. If he impresses in his new minor-league pitching job, it will be easy enough to call him up to the majors.
“He’s a strike thrower and repeats his delivery,” Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos told the Toronto Sun. “There is no such thing as a bad minor-league deal. We’re not guaranteeing one penny—other than his flight.”
Anthopoulos also allows that it will be good to give his catchers more practice catching knuckleballs.
Doesn’t sound all that gung-ho…but the team wouldn’t be paying for the plane ticket, or ensuring the training time with Dickey, if it didn’t see the potential. Anyhow, knuckleballers can handle skepticism as long as they get enough time on the mound to make their case.