NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY)- Norfolk Tides pitcher Eddie Gamboa faced the crossroads of his career last spring. “When you get older, there are kids who are 18 and 19 years old who can do the same thing that you can so you have to do something different and for me it was the knuckleball,” said Gamboa.
At 28-years-old, Gamboa last year reported to camp and had a chance meeting with legendary knuckleball thrower and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. “Phil Niekro was there to work with somebody else and I just so happened to be there. I’ve always thrown the knuckleball since the age of 12, but I never threw it competitively, until I met Phil Niekro and he convinced me,” said Gamboa.
So the Orioles came to Gamboa and convinced him to commit full-time to becoming a knuckleball thrower. He is currently in his second season of knuckle only and throws it about 60 percent of the time. It is been a transition with mixed results but trending towards the positive. “I’m not walking a ton of people like most knuckle ballers do, so I’m trying to find my identity with it and try to compete the best I can.”
This year, Gamboa learned a great deal in winter ball and showed up ahead of schedule. Norfolk Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin says Eddie is on the right track. “He’s commanding the knuckleball better than he did at any point and time last year and that’s a major step forward and when you can command the knuckle ball a little bit, your on the right track.” says Griffin.
Gamboa starts his pitch just above the catchers head and hopes it drops in for a strike. “I’ve made a few batters look silly and a few batters have made me look silly. You try to make more batters look silly than you and if you can do that then your going to be successful.”
Big league knuckleball thrower R.A. Dickey won the Cy Young Award at age 37 and Tim Wakefield pitched into his 40’s. Gamboa is just 29 years old. “If I can get this down, I still have a lot of years ahead of me. If I was conventional at my age, than I would one day be a good high school coach. So I am trying to stick around as long as I can.”