By Laura Amato
Tom Gamboa can’t quite remember what year it was, but he knows it was a Saturday afternoon when he first saw future Mets pitching star Jesse Orosco.
Gamboa, the current Brooklyn Cyclones manager, was working for the Major League Scouting Bureau at the time—a position he held from 1976 to 1978—and was in charge of prospects across Southern California.
He had heard a lot about a left-hander who, despite not being drafted out of high school, was sparking discussion in baseball circles across the state. So, one Saturday afternoon, Gamboa got in his car, drove to Santa Barbara, Calif., and changed baseball history.
He watched Orosco that day and with one conversation set in motion a string of events that set up the Mets’ 1986 World Series championship.
“He weighed—maybe—150 pounds, probably more like 145. Skinny as a rail,” Gamboa said of his first impression of Orosco. “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.”
When Gamboa watched Orosco pitch that fateful day, he was far from a World Series contender.
In fact, just a few innings into the game, Orosco was barely hitting mid-80s on his fastball.
“For the first two innings he started, his velocity was OK,” Gamboa said. “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 turned in his 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 to a Major League contract—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.
Gamboa came through on his promise when the Minnesota Twins drafted Orosco in 1978 on the suggestion of scout Jesse Flores. Flores heard of Orosco because of Gamboa.
Orosco was traded to the Mets after one season in the minors and the rest, as Gamboa said, “is history.”
Orosco won two World Series in his career—notching another title in 1988 with the Dodgers—and still holds the Major League 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 did meet again in 2009 when Gamboa was working with the San Diego Padres. Once again, he changed the life of an Orosco—signing Jesse Orosco. Jr. to the club.
The pair saw each other for the first time in years when Orosco threw out the first pitch at MCU Park Aug. 11 and it was as if no time had passed. For Gamboa, it was like watching that teenager throw in Santa Barbara all over again.
“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.”