Courtesy of Phrake Photography
Former Madera standout Alec Gamboa stands on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Rookie League team in Arizona where he posted a 3.13 ERA in 23 innings.
It’s been a pretty exciting year for former Madera Coyotes star athlete Alec Gamboa.
In May, his Fresno City College Rams baseball team was in the playoffs for a state championship. In June, Gamboa was selected in the ninth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team he rooted for growing up. In July, he was off to Dodgers’ camp and played until August.
Now, Gamboa is home for a while, catching up with family and friends while reflecting on a pretty remarkable 2019 before heading back to Arizona for the Dodgers’ Instructional League.
“The experience was great,” he said. “It feels good to be home.”
Gamboa will use the next couple of weeks to ‘recharge’ the batteries before heading back to the Instructional League for strength camp.
“It feels good to be home,” he said. “You come back home and want to visit family. My brother Buddy Gamboa just had a baby boy a few days ago. I was home for that. My brother Anthony is having a baby so I get to be home for that. It’s perfect timing. I get to see family, get a root canal and hang out with friends. It feels good to be around with people from before I left. It feels good.”
Gamboa wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived at the Dodgers’ training camp facility at Camelback Ranch in Arizona.
“When I got there (training camp), I was expecting these guys from big name schools to come in with these big egos, like they were entitled,” he said. “When we got there, it was the same group of kids that I am used to seeing. There were no egos and real laid-back kids. The coaches were saying this was the most respected, humbled class they had in a long time. It’s not the work is hard, but it’s lengthy. We wake up in our hotel and the bus leaves at 12:30 p.m. and we wouldn’t get back until 11 that night. We do that four days, then the fifth day is an off days and do that for two-and-a-half months. Once I got used to everything, it was kind of laid back.”
It took a little getting used to for Gamboa on the mound.
After two scoreless outing, Gamboa had a stretch where he gave up seven runs in 6 1/3 inning to bring his season ERA to 7.56.
“Performance-wise, I had to get used to these hitters,” he said. “I’m not facing JuCo hitters anymore. I’m facing professional hitters. I had to figure them out. I couldn’t throw a fastball by them. If they know it’s coming, they can hit it. I had to spot up. My problem was, early on, I couldn’t throw my off-speed pitches for strikes. I could get away with it at Fresno City. I had to learn to throw those for strikes and locate them. Once I got that mentality down, I was good to go from there.”
From there, he settled down. From July 28-August 23, Gamboa tossed 16 2/3 innings and allowed just one run. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out 24 batters. He gave up just six hits in his final six outings.
“There was a little doubt early on,” he said. “I thought I was pitching good, but the results weren’t that great. I wasn’t walking people. I wasn’t throwing the ball where I needed to be. I was throwing fastballs right down the middle. It was bad. I knew location was my problem, strike-wise. My fastball was there. I touched 95 this year. It was just figuring out the guys and start getting outs.
“By my fourth outing, I started to get strikeouts. There was one outing where I came in and had to get one out with a runner at first. I came in and threw three pitches and strike the guy out. I came back out for the next inning and struck out the side. I thought, once my stuff was on, I could do this.”
Gamboa finished with a 3.13 ERA in 23 innings pitched. He struck out 32 batters and just walked two, but none in his final seven appearances. He allowed just 19 hits and held batters to a .209 batting average.
“They were really excited about how I performed,” he said. “That’s the reason why they want me to go back to the Instructional League in three weeks. They told me they had a meeting and want me to go to the Instructional League. They said they wanted me and saw me as a potential prospect. There are a couple of things they want me to work on, but we think everything is there. I’m going back for strength camp. I threw a lot of innings at Fresno City and with them. They said I have a weak core and a weak scaf. I have to get that stronger. I didn’t think I was weak, but they gave me these weird tests and I could see that I was weak.”
While with the Dodgers, Gamboa was given jersey No. 34, which was an honor for him.
“It was unbelievable to put on that jersey, especially with No. 34,” he said. “That’s Fernando Valenzuela. That’s why I wore 34 at Fresno City. I’m a diehard Dodgers fan. When I saw that in my locker, I thought somebody was playing a joke. You don’t get to pick your number. I saw a lot of high numbers in the locker room. I get 34 and I thought no way. It was a coincidence I got 34. Everybody in the locker room wondered what string I pulled to get that.”
Although he enjoyed his situation, Gamboa did encounter times of loneliness in his first extended time away from the Central Valley.
“It was tough being away,” he said. “We had roommates in our hotel, but guys get moved around all the time. There was a time where I didn’t have a roommate for about two or three weeks. When you are in the room alone, it kind of hits you. You have nobody there and you start thinking. When you have a roommate, they help take some of the stress out. When I was alone, that’s when I got a little sad and started to make more phone calls than I usually did.”
Gamboa is excited for the upcoming season, especially after strength camp. He hopes the strength will help his four pitch repertoire — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and slider — while getting his fastball into the 93-95 mile per hour range. He will also be more than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, which many experts say is the first year many feel 100 percent.
“They said I did fairly well in the season,” Gamboa said. “There’s a few things they wanted to get me stronger in. It’s an honor to get invited to Instructional League. I can work strictly on working out and getting better at my craft.”