Rays of Hope for Knuckleballers like Eddie Gamboa, Etc.

tampa-bay-raysThe big news has been that Eddie Gamboa, who signed a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays in January of this year, early this month got promoted to the MLB. The Baltimore Sun reports:

Former Orioles farmhand Eddie Gamboa, who extended his career—and his dream of making the majors—by becoming a knuckleball pitcher, finally made his major league debut on Friday for the Rays after toiling in the minors for nine seasons.

Gamboa spent eight of those years in the Orioles organization, including three seasons trying to perfect the knuckleball. The organization brought in Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro to work with him, and Gamboa sought advice from fellow knuckleballers R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright.

But it took a change in organizations for Gamboa to see consistent success with the knuckleball….

After struggling in his debut on Friday against Toronto—three of the four batters he faced reached base—Gamboa threw three scoreless innings against his former team in a 7-3 Orioles win on Monday at Tropicana Field. He retired eight of the nine batters he faced, his only baserunner a walk to Mark Trumbo in the seventh inning.

“The good thing about today also was Eddie Gamboa came in and threw the ball really well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s nice to see after his first outing. We kind of figured that once he got a little more comfort and the nerves went away, he was going to throw a good outing and he really did.”

This also just in: In a story for FoxSports, Joshua Mayer inexplicably asserts that “31-year-old rookie knuckleballer” Gamboa “was just taught this year how to throw the pitch,” a pretty wobbly lapse at some tier of the fact-checking process. Gamboa has been at this for a while now, including “three seasons trying to perfect the knuckleball” with the Orioles organization (see above story).

We cite Mayer not only to bean him for his blunder but also because his report does have the merit of stressing the extent to which the Rays are promoting the knuckleball.

charlie-haegerMayer states that in the Rays had “curiously hired former knuckleballer Charlie Haeger to be their lead minor league pitching coordinator,” which is correct, except for the adverb. Mayer says that the Rays signed “former first basemen Dan Johnson to a minor league pitching contract. Apparently, he knew how to throw a knuckleball.” Correct on both counts. Mayer says that the Rays “signed long time minor league catcher Jeff Howell, as he too knew how to throw a knuckler.” Correct. And Mayer notes that, per a June report by MLB.com reporter Bill Chastain, “Former Rays top-of-the-rotation pitcher Andy Sonnanstine” was hoping for a comeback as a knuckleballer.” Correct again.

Can we toss into the mix the fact that back in 2014, the Rays hosted a then-17-year-old knuckleball pitcher by the name of Chelsea Baker to (in our words) “confound a few professional ball players”?

Conclusion: the Rays are one good team to go to if one wishes to improve and use one’s knuckleball. And maybe even use it to get to the MLB.

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