The Arizona Diamondbacks took a chance by teaming up with the MLB Network show The Next Knuckler, which is a reality show competition between five ex-quarterbacks to determine whose knuckleball-throwing skills can get them a shot at the big leagues.
The winner, ex-LSU quarterback Josh Booty, entered spring training with the D-backs and says he’s enjoyed every minute of it.
“This organization is wonderful,” Booty told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug and Wolf on Tuesday. “From the top down, it has been first class. I’ve just been happy to be a part of spring training.”
But this isn’t Booty’s first rodeo, as he was drafted fifth overall as a shortstop by the then-Florida Marlins in 1994 out of high school. Booty played in the minor leagues up until 1996, when he finally made it to the big show and ended up with a World Series championship ring with the 1997 Marlins.
“Back in the day, when I was in Double-A and I was hitting about .210 with the Marlins, Fredi Gonzalez was our manager and he said, ‘Son, we might need you as a closer because you throw about 94 mph’,” Booty said. “But that was a long time ago.”
After being away from the game for nearly 15 years, Booty received his first spring training appearance on Sunday against a San Francisco Giants minor league squad. The 37-year-old knuckleballer faced six batters in an inning of work and allowed one hit, two walks and a wild pitch that accounted for two runs against. Reports said Booty threw more fastballs than knuckleballs and was topping out around 85 mph.
“I’m trying to get in shape,” Booty said. “I’m trying to get my arm in shape, and I’m trying to throw the knuckleball, and try to throw it for strikes.”
But Booty believes having that second pitch — whether a fastball or something else — is essential to progressing as a pitcher in the major leagues. The ex-quarterback and third baseman states he has the arm to help contribute to his arsenal.
“I feel like I have a live enough arm to have a second pitch, which is very critical once you get to the level these guys are at,” Booty said. “When you’re throwing 86, 87, 88 and you throw a 72 mph knuckler, that fastball looks like 100.”
If he can develop that second pitch and throw the knuckleball for strikes, Booty believes he’ll be able to remain in the big leagues.
“Every knuckleballer has a crazy story, and this would just be another one,” Booty said.