By Contributing Writer: Nick Stevens
Every few months I make trip back home to my parents' house in the Hampton Roads area. Still inside my childhood closet are binders, boxes, and plastic containers overflowing with baseball trading cards. Nostalgia sets in and I usually end up on Youtube watching clips of my favorite former major leaguers like: Vladimir Guerrero, Ken Griffey Jr, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, etc.
Photo: Patrick Cavey
However, there is always a soft spot in my heart for the guys who toiled around in the majors for years, never securing Hall of Fame status, but becoming well known in the minds of baseball aficionados. For example, I was psyched when the Orioles signed Johan Santana in 2014 and highly disappointed when he suffered a torn ACL and missed the entire season. Nothing makes me happier as a baseball fan than seeing forgotten veterans attempt a comeback.
The newest vet attempting a comeback is right-handed pitcher Tomo Ohka, who was signed by the Orioles to a minor league contract back in December. Ohka made his major league debut for the Boston Red Sox nearly 18 years ago in 1999!
The GM who signed Ohka was none other than Dan Duquette. When the Norfolk Tides begin their season in April, Tomo Ohka will be 41 years old. Ohka's last MLB experience came back in 2009 as a member of the Cleveland Indians, where he finished 1-5 with a 5.96 ERA. His best season came in 2002 as a member of the Montreal Expos, where he put up a 13-8 record, 3.18 ERA, and struck out a career high 118 batters in 31 starts. That 2002 Expos' pitching staff also included Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano and the age-less Bartolo Colon. If Tomo Ohka can somehow earn a call-up to Baltimore, he will join Colon as the last remaining former Expos' players in major league baseball.
Ohka last pitched in the United States in 2014 as a member of the Bridgeport Blue Fish, an independent Atlantic League team. In Bridgeport, Ohka pitched two shutouts and finished with a 7-12 record and a 5.14 ERA. Over the last two years he has pitched in a Japanese independent league where he has continued to develop his knuckleball. Ohka had a failed comeback attempt as a knuckleballer with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014, where he was able to learn from R.A. Dickey.
Sure, Dan Duquette could have signed a plethora of different arms to add depth in Norfolk, and the odds are severely stacked against Ohka, but you have to root for the now-knuckleballer. Maybe his new knuckleball is just what Ohka needs to get a shot to pitch at Camden Yards. Maybe the move will prove to be a complete failure. Who knows, maybe he will repeat his June 1, 2000 performance when he pitched the 3rd 9-inning perfect game in International League history after only 77 pitches.
Whichever way this ends up, Ohka was signed to a minor league deal, so there is no financial risk. Personally, I wish nothing but success for Tomo Ohka and can't wait to see him pitch for the Tides.