If you want to win, you’ve got to lose the spin
That was the motto of MLB Network’s latest reality TV show, The Next Knuckler, which was hosted by former Boston Red Sox teammates and World Series champions Tim Wakefield and Kevin Millar.
The contest aimed at providing a former quarterback an invitation to attend Arizona Diamondbacks’ spring training to compete as a knuckleball-throwing pitcher, and that it did.
The winner of the show is ex-Louisiana State University quarterback Josh Booty, who at 37 will put his ability to the test when he reports to camp at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I’m going to take this serious because it’s my last chance to do something crazy,” Booty said. “If I can throw one inning in a game then I’ll know it was worth it.
“I’m going for it.”
To get to Arizona, Booty had to beat out former Boston College Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, Georgia’s David Greene, LSU and Jacksonville State’s Ryan Perrilloux, and his own brother, USC’s John David Booty.
Booty is significantly older than most who start a pitching career, but said he is confident in his talent and thrilled to see what the future holds.
“I know it’s an experiment but I must be the best guy to pull it off at my age,” he said. “I know the chances are slim but I’m ultra-competitive and I’d love to see what I can do.”
He’ll get that chance in spring training, as it is an opportunity to get better over a span of 3-4 weeks. Booty said the time will allow him to get ready to pitch in live games.
“I’ll be learning to pitch and be consistent against pro hitters,” Booty said. “I think I could be a great knuckleballer in 30-40 sessions.”
Helping Booty is the fact that this is not the first time he’s picking up a baseball. Before matriculating at LSU to play quarterback, Booty played high school baseball and was drafted fifth overall by the Florida Marlins in 1994.
He played in 478 minor league games and appeared in 13 Major League contests, where he posted a .269 batting average with four RBI.
“I think I was a little ahead because of my baseball experience,” he said. “I pitched in high school and for my Junior Olympic team.”
Booty said the only time he had ever tried throwing a knuckleball in his life was when he was just messing around with his teammates, but that was a long time ago.
“We used to goof off in high school practice with the knuckle but it was never anything serious,” he said. “I hadn’t thrown a baseball in 15 years.”
After spending time learning from knuckleball expert Tim Wakefield at “Dodgertown” in Vero Beach, Fla., where the contest was filmed, Booty will attempt to speed up his learning curve while working with Tom Candiotti, who is one of the top knucklers in league history. Candiotti is part of the Diamondbacks’ broadcasting crew.
But that’s not why the D-backs are involved.
Out of 30 teams in the league, one would wonder how they were the team selected to take on the knuckleball project.
The club’s general manager, Kevin Towers, said it was Arizona’s president and CEO Derrick Hall who started juggling the idea during ownership meetings.
Towers said he believes it could work out well for the team, having seen it happen before.
“I was with the Pirates when Wakefield went from being a first baseman to one of the better knuckleballers in the game,” he said. “To me it doesn’t matter where guys come from, whether it be independent leagues, the NFL, college football, as long as they get people out.
“It’ll be interesting to see how it works out.”