This James Gilbert Might Make It

Back in the pre-draft days the Dodgers for years sponsored a team called the Dodger Rookies. It was a group chosen from tryouts held among the top high school talent from the area- the New York City envisions when the franchise waslocated in Brooklyn; Southern California when they moved to L.A.

Those selected would then tour through the summer playing top amateur and semi-pro teams. Not all of the players would turn pro and of those that did not all joined the Dodgers but they were always able to cull some true talent from the lists; Jim Lefebvre, Willie Davis and Bill Singer, for example.

In 1961 a righthanded pitcher named James Gilbert was chosen. He was signed at the end of the summer and debuted the next year in the Midwest League where he did quite well, winning 10 games. But that was it for he developed arm troubles so severely that he never pitched professionally again. One year and out.

Fast forward to 2004 when the Dodgers drafted a righthanded pitcher from California named James Gilbert. Ah, you think, a son or maybe a nephew come to pick up the torch. But, no, says this one, "I'm aware that there was another one with the same name who was with the Dodgers but as far as I know we're not related. "

There's more of a connection than the name, though for this one, too, has had arm problems. His, in fact, occurred while he was still an amateur, yet he was signed anyway. If you wonder why they bothered with one that needed an operation, remember, the medical techniques that are commonplace now that weren't heard of in the early 60's. And when you hear that this one was hitting 98 on the gun before the injury, you can understand the move.

This James Gilbert is from Concord which is located in the San Francisco Bay area but he didn't grow up cheering for either the Giants or the Oakland A's. "I followed Southern California sports so the Dodgers and Angels were my teams," he relates. He was throwing 93 in high school but was considered quite raw when the Dodgers drafted him in the 33rd round.

He then attended Chabot Junior College where his mound work became much more refined. "My coaches taught me a lot. They helped all my pitches and added five miles to my fast ball."

With his heater sitting consistently at 94-95 , he rolled to a 7-1, 1.30 record, averaging a dozen strikeouts a game. Then, however, disaster struck. Throwing a curve, he felt something snap. "I sat out three weeks, then tried to come back but it hurt too much. I decided to have the operation."

The Dodgers knew, of course, but also knew that if they didn't sign him as a draft-and-follow, he could go back into the draft and might well be lost to them. Trusting that the odds were good that he could recover and throw with his old flair as many others have done, they signed him. The next day he was at the Jobe-Kerlan Clinic having Tommy John surgery.

Four months later he's in Dodgertown as part of the rehab group. He has yet to throw and will have to continue his work here until October. He'll then go home, work on his conditioning there and return to the Florida training facilities after the first of the year.

"It's a grind," he admits. "I just tell myself this is what I have to do so I can get back on the mound again. That keeps me going."

The prognosis has him throwing sometime in April. He'll probably return to action in late May or early June. And if he throws remotely like he did before the injury, he could be among the more elite pitching prospects in an organization literally laced with them.

This James Gilbert may then get the opportunity the other never did and make it all the way.