Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa can’t quite remember what year it was when he changed the course of baseball history, but he knows it was a Saturday afternoon — he decided to drive to Santa Barbara, Calif., and check out a little pitching prospect he had heard about named Jesse Orosco. Three decades later, the pair reunited at MCU Park on Aug. 11 when Orosco threw out the first pitch as part of a Cyclones promotion honoring the 1986 Mets.
Of course, baseball fans around the world remember Orosco for his post-game celebration — throwing up his glove and hugging catcher Gary Carter on the mound — after notching the final out of the ’86 series. But when Gamboa watched Orosco pitch that day in the late-’70s, he was far from a World Series contender, Gamboa said.
“He weighed — maybe — 150 pounds, probably more like 145. Skinny as a rail,” said Gamboa, who worked for the Major League Scouting Bureau from 1976 to 1978. “But he really knew how to pitch. He had a feel for watching a hitter swing and knowing how to throw his timing off and he had the makings of a good breaking ball. For the first two innings he started, his velocity was okay. But, because he was so slender, by the third or fourth inning, he was barely hitting 80 miles per hour on the radar gun. And I turned him in as a fringe major league prospect.”
Major league scouts questioned Gamboa’s sanity when he filed the reports, flabbergasted that he would suggest Orosco was ready for the next level. Gamboa, however, was adamant.
He didn’t have the power to sign Orosco — the Major League Scouting Bureau existed to help set up relationships between prospects and clubs — but promised the pitcher and his family the future was bright.
“They were all just elated that somebody was interested in him,” Gamboa said. “His goal was to play baseball, but nobody was interested in him. I said, ‘I can’t tell you who you’re going to be drafted by, but I can tell you you’re going to be drafted based on the report I turned in.’ ”
The Minnesota Twins made good on Gamboa’s promise when the team drafted Orosco in 1978 on the suggestion of scout Jesse Flores, who heard of the hurler through Gamboa.
The Twinkies traded the pitcher to the Mets after just one season in the minors and the rest, as Gamboa said, “is history.”
Orosco won two World Series in his career — notching the 1988 with the Dodgers two years after winning with the Mets — and still holds the Major League Baseball record for career pitching appearances with 1,252 games.
Orosco and Gamboa’s paths didn’t cross much during their respective careers in the big leagues, but the pair met again in 2009 when the Clones skipper was working with the San Diego Padres. Once again, Gamboa changed the life of an Orosco — bringing Jesse Orosco. Jr. to the club.
Gamboa and Orosco spoke on the field for a few minutes after the ceremonial first pitch in Brooklyn last week — and even discussed making plans to go golfing soon.
It’s been a long time since that drive to Santa Barbara, but Gamboa knows he’d do it all over again. He’s just happy he could help someone’s career.
“What a career,” Gamboa said. “And what a great guy, an integral in-the-clubhouse guy all those years with the Mets. It was great to see him and great for Mets fans.”