Luis Gamez nearly gave up playing baseball after failing to make Cienega High School’s varsity team as a sophomore before his father convinced him to stick with the sport.
Now baseball has become Gamez’s life.
The Atlanta Braves selected Gamez with their 11th-round pick in last month’s amateur draft. This, despite the fact that Gamez pitched just 15 innings in five appearances as a senior.
The Braves picked the 6-foot-2-inch right-hander based on potential. Gamez, the son of former minor league pitcher Francisco Gamez, was throwing 94 miles per hour by the end of his senior year. Despite owning a big arm, the 18-year-old said he wasn’t sure what the future held.
“My senior year, I came into it thinking (that) I had this one last season and I’ve got to enjoy it as much as I can,” Gamez said. “I love the game so much that I wanted to play every day but I had to realize it wasn’t going to be like that.”
Playing time didn’t come easy for Gamez. Without a solidified position, or a steady spot in the lineup, he felt his place on the team hinged on every pitch and every at-bat.
“He’s the baseball equivalent of a gym rat,” Cienega coach Tony Gabusi said. “The challenge for us was to find a place where Luis fit in, serve the team and make us better.”
It wasn’t until the Senior Fall Classic last year that Gamez, who was used mainly as a shortstop and catcher at Cienega, began to relax and commit himself to pitching.
Scouts for the Braves discovered Gamez essentially by accident: They had come to see his teammate Andre Jackson hit, field and pitch.
But the right-hander caught their eyes when he was clocked at 90 miles an hour as a relief pitcher. Gamez received a scholarship offer from New Mexico Junior College afterward, and scouts were intrigued.
The journey from a middle infielder with a strong arm to professional pitcher isn’t unfamiliar to the Gamez family.
Francisco Gamez went through the same process: He was also a shortstop with a strong arm, at a high school in Mexico. He was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent and spent five years pitching for the organization, making it as high as Double-A.
“He’s been really helpful,” Luis Gamez said about his father. “He keeps me positive and pushes me. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here.”
Francisco Gamez was Director of Hispanic Marketing for the former Tucson Padres and organized the Vamos a Tucson Mexican Baseball Fiesta. The younger Gamez cleaned cleats, took out trash and was bat boy – and got a taste of what it’s like being a professional player.
Gamez’s experience taught him more about the game, how to stay in control and what it takes to get to that level. He also became friends with and learned from Tucson Padres Cameron Maybin, Nick Hundley and Yasmani Grandal, all of whom are currently playing in the big leagues.
He especially remembers seeing Hundley, a UA grad now catching for the Baltimore Orioles, often taking swings in the batting cages at 9 a.m., four hours before players had to show up.
“You see him on TV and think he makes it look really easy but you don’t see the work that he put in,” Gamez said. “Then I saw it and it gave me hope. If you put the work in, anything is possible.”
Gamez is now stationed in Orlando, Florida, and playing for the Braves’ rookie affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. He hopes to inspire other kids who may feel its time to give up on the game.
“I felt like I was overlooked,” Gamez said. “I just hope I can motivate kids right now who are not making varsity their junior or sophomore years. Put in a lot of hard work and someone is going to find you.”