Josh Booty may have won the MLB Network’s “The Next Knuckler,” but his work has just begun.
Booty showed up to camp on Thursday and worked a bit in the bullpen with former Major League knuckler and current Arizona Diamondbacks broadcaster Tom Candiotti. “He’s got the best fastball of any knuckleballer I’ve ever seen,” Candiotti told MLB. “He can flat out throw it.” He threw 88-89 mph during the bullpen session with his fastball.
Are you asking yourself, what’s “The Next Kunckler”? With the Knuckleball quickly becoming an extinct pitch, the MLB Network aired a reality show about the search for the pitch’s heir apparent. Think “American Idol”…but with Kevin Millar.
“With the knuckleball, he can throw it,” Candiotti said. “He’s got the ability to be able to take the spin off the ball. It’s a constant battle for him right now with his mechanics right now, being able to repeat his delivery, because he drifts a little bit.” “In my mind, I’m taking it serious,” Booty said to MLB. “I don’t want to come in here and goof off.”
The Diamondbacks agreed to have Booty in camp and will allow him to at least throw one inning during a Major League game. Past that, he will need to earn anything else he gets. It is possible if he impresses enough that he could wind up getting a spot in the Minor Leagues.
Convinced I am the only one that watched this show, is anyone shocked that the team in question is the Arizona Diamondbacks? Has Kirk Gibson gone Hollywood?
To be fair, Josh Booty has a history on the diamond. He was actually drafted fourth overall out of high school as a shortstop by the Marlins in the 1994 First-Year Player Draft. The Marlins inked him to a then-record $1.6 million signing bonus with the stipulation that he not play football.
“I cried the night that I signed the contract,” Booty said to MLB about having to give up football.
Booty spent 1994-98 in the Marlins system, where he hit .198. He got 30 plate appearances in the big leagues from 1996-98 and hit .269. In 1999, he left baseball and went to Louisiana State University, where he played quarterback for two seasons.
In 2001 he was taken in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks and bounced around a few organizations, mainly on the practice squads. Nevertheless, at age 37, he’s hoping for one more shot.
“It’s kind of writing the last chapter,” Booty said to MLB. “I’ve been close a few times. This is like I’m a rookie for the third time. If I was able to get on the field, I mean it’s crazy. I’m just going to have fun with it to be honest with you and get myself in shape so that I have a chance and keep it simple.” Not many players attempt comebacks at his age, but his athletic prowess and ability to throw a knuckleball mean he can’t totally be counted out. After beating out former NCAA Division I quarterbacks John David Booty (his brother), Doug Flutie, Ryan Perrilloux and David Greene, Josh Booty now finds himself back at Spring Training, this time as a non-roster invitee.
“Yeah, I’m 37 years old, but I don’t have any wear and tear on my arm and my shoulder and I never got hurt because in the NFL I was a backup the whole time,” Booty said. “I feel comfortable and my arm is healthy and I think I can get it back to where I was when I was in my 20s.”
When MLB Network pitched the idea of the reality show at a Major League Baseball owners meeting, Diamondbacks team president/CEO Derrick Hall immediately volunteered to be the team that gave the winner a non-roster invitation. It was a chance for national brand awareness for their new look, tougher franchise. (Ask Justin Upton.)
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson (who I did not pin for one who would participate in the trappings of our new realty show culture) threw Booty into a pitching group right away on Friday. He said the organization wants to make sure that he’s able to handle himself on the mound before sticking him in a game.
While the show finished taping three weeks ago, the final episode aired Thursday night. Ever since he knew he won the competition, Booty has been throwing long toss and trying to get his body in better shape. Two weeks ago, he spent a week with former knuckler Charlie Hough in California and last week he was in Florida working with Tim Wakefield, another longtime Major League knuckleball pitcher.
“I know my pitching is a lot better now than it was on that show three or four weeks ago,” Booty said. “I’ve come crazy far in three weeks and if I can get another 10-15 opportunities to throw sides, bullpens, work with [pitching coach Charles Nagy], do some things here with Candiotti … I think the sky would be the limit.”