After suffering for more than a year, former Madera Coyote multi-sport standout Alec Gamboa went under the knife to repair his ulnar collateral ligament, also knows as Tommy John Surgery.
Gamboa, who thinks he first hurt his elbow in May 2016, had surgery on July 25 and is facing a 14 month rehabilitation.
“We’re a week in and I’m looking forward to the process,” he said. “I feel really comfortable about going forward. I think this is going to be great for me.”
Gamboa, who was the Madera High School Male Athlete of the Year in 2015 after excelling at football, wrestling and baseball, earned a baseball scholarship at Fresno State before transferring to Fresno City College last year.
“I was feeling the pain in the fall,” he said. “I kind of pitched through it. It went away as time went on. It came back and never left. I went to see the doctor and got a second opinion. They both said if I wanted to be 100 percent again, I would need the surgery.”
The surgery was Gamboa’s first major surgery and he had some apprehension, even though his doctor told him there was a 75 percent success rate.
“I wasn’t really devastated about the surgery because of the success rate,” he said. “However, when the doctor told me I was going to need the surgery, that’s when it hit me. I’m going to be out of baseball for 14 months. I went to Los Angeles for the doctor visit and on the drive back, it kind of sunk in.”
Gamboa never felt a problem in his pitching arm while leading the Coyotes to the Valley Championship in his junior season. However, he felt something wasn’t right during a bullpen session in 2016 at Fresno State.
“I was on academic probation for a while and wasn’t playing baseball for about a month,” he said. “When I started getting everything on track, I went out again. My arm wasn’t in shape. I started throwing too quick. I remember, it was a bullpen. I remember feeling the pop. Ever since then, it’s been bugging me.”
A week after the surgery, Gamboa is feeling good.
“I haven’t had any pain whatsoever since the surgery,” he said.
Gamboa said it will be six months before he will pick up a ball and 14 months before he can throw off the mound. He will still attend Fresno City College, but will sacrifice a year of eligibility. He was redshirted as a freshman at Fresno State and used a medical redshirt last year. He looks forward to the 2019 season.
“It was weird for me,” Gamboa said of his time at Fresno State. “I didn’t know I was going to redshirt until the season was over. The season went on, (Fresno State head baseball coach Mike) Batesole never once told me I was going to redshirt. I called to the bullpen to get hot three times that year. I never got into the game. Towards the end of the season, I knew I was going to redshirt. I got to travel to some of the games. Batesole doesn’t tell people they are going to redshirt, but if you haven’t played much or none, he’s going to redshirt you.”
However, Gamboa blames himself for his road to recovery.
“This all doesn’t happen if I do my work,” Gamboa said. “It would never happen if I go to my English classes and do my English work. It all comes down to me and it’s my fault.”
However, even with the missteps, Gamboa is happy with his decision to transfer from Fresno State to Fresno City, although the road to FCC was full of runaround and miscommunication.
“In the summer, I was in Chicago to play baseball,” Gamboa said. “I got an email saying my athletic aid was removed. I called my coach to ask what was going on. He told me I was supposed to get signed up for a summer class, but I wasn’t signed up, yet. I said I was on it. The class didn’t start for a couple of weeks. He said if you pass your summer class, we’ll talk about your scholarship. Batesole called me and told me he took it away. He said if you pass your summer class, we’ll think about it. As the summer went on, I was devastated. I was taking the summer class and I was talking to my dad and we decided that I would go to Fresno City College. I stopped taking the summer class.”
Gamboa then got a call from Fresno State pitching coach Steve Rousey asking him how his class was going. Gamboa then told him he wasn’t taking the class and was going to go to Fresno City.
“He said there were other things we can go about it,” Gamboa said. “We can get an appeal and we can get you back. The reason why was I didn’t pass my English class in the fall and spring. The summer class was my last chance and I stopped taking the class. He said we can get an appeal and I can take the class this fall. The appeal was approved. I asked him before I headed back to Fresno State, if I was going to get my scholarship back. Rousey talked to Batesole. Rousey called me and said they were giving it back to me, but I had to stay through with it. I said that’s perfect. I’m coming back.”
However, when Gamboa came back to school, he found out his scholarship had been revoked and he would have to work to get it back after he was promised it would be there.
“I went to get my books for my classes and they said I couldn’t get my books,” he said. “I asked why because it’s part of my scholarship. They said my scholarship wasn’t in and I had to talk to my coach. I talked to Rousey and told him I went to get my books. He said he would talk to Batesole about it. Later that night, Rousey called me and said there was miscommunication. Batesole told me that I would have to work for it this year and would get it next year.”
However, that’s not what was told to Gamboa until then. He had just moved into his off-campus apartment and was going to use his scholarship money to pay for the apartment.
“There were tears and it was tough,” he said. “He said not to worry because we can do financial aid and other stuff. I said I understood that, but it’s the principle. You told me you were going to give it to me. I’m here and it’s not there.”
Gamboa tried to stick with it for a couple of months with financial aid, but the stress of college and trying to survive financially weighed on Gamboa.
“I tried financial aid for a couple of months and felt like they were messing with me,” he said. “I told Batesole I wasn’t going to deal with it and was going to City. He was disappointed and upset. I think he knew that was what going happen from the get-go.”
However, the decision to attend Fresno City College may be the decision that changes Gamboa’s future.
“I ended up going to City and it was my best decision. (Fresno City College head baseball coach) Ron Scott is amazing,” Gamboa said. “I go his house all the time and go fishing at his private pond. Me and Scott have a different relationship than I had with Batesole. I probably had three conversations with Batesole while I was there. With Scott, I can talk to him about anything. Coach Eric Solberg, the pitching coach, and I talk about everything. That’s the relationship you want o have with all of your players and that’s why they’ve been so successful.”
Solberg worked with Gamboa to change his mechanics to improve his pitching. Described as an over-the-top pitcher, Solberg moved his arm slot down to about a three-quarters and it added miles and movement to his fastball.
“I showed up and I am an over-the-top pitcher, like an Iron Mike pitching machine,” Gamboa said. “Coach Solberg said why don’t we try something different. He dropped my arm angle to about three-quarters and that was probably the best decisions I made, too. The two-seam feels so much more comfortable and has more movement. I felt like I was throwing harder, which I was. Heading into the Skyline game, I was hitting 92 where I was 89-90. Even through the surgery, the coaches have been texting me. I couldn’t be more thankful for those guys.
“Batesole was more involved with the hitters,” Gamboa said. “Coaches have their different style of coaching. I prefer the whole friend-type relationship. One of my favorite coaches in high school was (wrestling)Coach (Joe) Romine. We would talk about anything on road trips. If you have that relationships with one of your kids, it’s a much easier process. I like everything about that kind of relationship and that’s what I have with Scott and Solberg. I didn’t have that with Batesole or Rousey.”
In Gamboa’s first outing, against Skyline College, he struck out 10 in 5 1/3 innings and gave up one hit.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Gamboa said. “Solberg started talking about draft. But, the next morning, my arm was killing me.”
Gamboa sat for three weeks, but gave up five walks and couldn’t control his pitches in his next, and last, outing.
“Solberg said we need to do something about this,” Gamboa said. “The doctor told me that my UCL was partially torn. You can do rehab. I did rehab for about six weeks.”
Gamboa then went to see Dr. Neal ElAttrach, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ head team physician.
Gamboa, a Dodgers’ fan himself, said that ElAttrach made him feel comfortable from the start.
“He was a cool dude,” Gamboa said. “He told me that my UCL was beat up. It was partially torn in different spots. He said therapy wasn’t going to help and plasma injections weren’t going to help and I was going to need surgery. That’s how we went about it.
“Fourteen months from now, I’m going to be better than I was,” Gamboa said.