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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Interview Part 4: Tom Gamboa, Truly Passionate

Brooklyn Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa, center, watches batting practice in August 2014 at Troy, NY. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: Accomplished Something | Part 2: Common Good
Part 3: Strange Deal | Part 4: Truly Passionate
Part 5: Player Stories

Tom Gamboa was retired, and happily so. He'd taken up tournament golf, transferring the passion he had for baseball over the previous 40 years from the field to the links.

So, when the Mets called in early 2014 with an opening at short-season Brooklyn, the 66-year-old Gamboa wasn't immediately interested.

"When they called me, I told them that I was very flattered that they thought of me, but that I was very happy in retirement," Gamboa recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently. "I really hadn't planned on coming back."

But Gamboa didn't turn them down completely and the Mets left the door open, giving him a week to think it over.

"The week made me realize that I did miss being around young players," Gamboa said. "I did miss teaching and coaching. Most of all, I did miss the competition, going to the games and the camaraderie of the clubhouse."
Brooklyn manager Tom Gamboa working with hitter Michael Conforto during an August 2014 batting practice at Troy, NY. (G21D Photo)
Gamboa returned to the game in 2014 and nearly took his team of young Mets prospects to the New York Penn League playoffs.

Gamboa spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY, where his Cyclones were visiting the Tri-City Valley Cats.

Gamboa covered his youth, growing up and learning the game from his father. Gamboa's wait to make the bigs was a long one, more than a quarter century. After a playing career that lasted just two seasons, he became a scout and then alternated between coordinator positions and managing.

Then, finally, for the 1998 season, Gamboa got his major league job with the Cubs. He ended up coaching in five seasons in the bigs, getting attacked in the process.

Gamboa's final major league season came in 2003 as bullpen coach for the Royals. By 2005, he was back in the minors, managing at AA Arkansas. He then served as a coordinator for the Padres, manager for a collegiate team in Palm Springs and manager at Inland Empire in 2011.

He cut his stint with Inland Empire short to spend time with his ailing mother, Polly, who had a terminal illness.
Brooklyn manager Tom Gamboa, at cage, watches batting practice as Michael Bernal practices baserunning. (G21D Photo)
His time at Palm Springs and Inland Empire also allowed him to stay close to home, as well as stay in the game. Gamboa signed on with the Palm Springs team simply because it was close to home. He had retired, but the owner asked him to manage.

"We had a great team," Gamboa said of that Palm Springs squad, "and I got to fulfill my passion of continuing in baseball and helping young guys in college, while being home at the same time."

After he left Inland Empire, Gamboa was supposed to be retired for good. Then the Mets came calling. After that week to think it over, he was back.

Getting back into the game actually wasn't that difficult, Gamboa said, especially with the team he had and the league he was in.

"It's actually easy at this level," Gamboa said. "The enthusiasm that they bring - their whole life since they were 5 or 8 or 10, they've aspired to be a professional baseball player."

On his team were players fresh out of the Dominican Republic or Venezuela and players fresh out of high school and college.

They were young players, Gamboa said, with a high energy level, a willingness to learn and a drive to excel. But, he said, they're also away from home for the first time.
Brooklyn manager Tom Gamboa, right, talks to Tucker Tharp during an August 2014 batting practice at Troy, NY. (G21D Photo)
"At this level, you're kind of a manager, a counselor, a surrogate mother, father, guidance counselor," Gamboa said. "You're a lot of roles into one."

The short-season nature of the level, he said, exposes the players to every day life in professional baseball.

"It's just long enough that they get homesick and learn to feed themselves, and to monitor their diet so that they can perform," Gamboa said. "But it's short enough to get them to realize that next year, when it's going to be a full five months, 140 games, just how much they have to take care of themselves, with their rest, with their diet to have the stamina to go through the full season."

Regarding his return, Gamboa said, "it's been challenging, it's been fun, it's been very rewarding to watch these kids develop."

His time in Brooklyn, was also the continuing realization of his declaration at the age of 10 that he would spend his career in baseball.

"The one thing that I've tried to impart to all my players, as well as my five kids that I raised," Gamboa said, "is that I think that if people can find what they're truly passionate about and find a way to make their living through their passion, they'll find that they never really worked a day in their life." (Go to Part 5)

Part 1: Accomplished Something | Part 2: Common Good
Part 3: Strange Deal | Part 4: Truly Passionate
Part 5: Player Stories

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