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  • Profile: Mike Zamba, San Jose MSBL

    Mike Zamba: Still Good Enough

    By David Krival, from Winter 1993 issue of HardBall Magazine

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    On May 23, 1993, Mike Zamba, of the San Jose MSBL Expos, pitched a seven-inning perfect game. Zamba threw 79 pitches, 63 for strikes; 71 were fastballs. Zamba struck out 18 San Jose Yankees.

    It was the second game of the day for the Expos, who lost badly to the Royals in the morning. Zamba had strep throat and a fever, but the snickers of the Yanks on the sidelines raised his hackles, so he asked for the ball. "The bone chips were all in alignment. I pitched on amoxicillin, ibuprofen and Tiger Balm,” he said. "Felt twenty-one again. Haven't thrown like that in years. My fastball was moving all over the place.”

    Through August 29, Mike won eleven straight grames in 1993, striking out 145 in 96.1 innings with a 0.55 ERA.

    Organized Baseball

    Mike graduated from the University of New Haven in 1980 and was drafted by Pittsburgh. After a season and a half with Alexandria in the Carolina League, Pittsburgh promoted him to the AA Buffalo Bisons to be used as a reliever. Mike balked at the idea.

    "If I had gone along, I might have made the majors, but I believed I was a starter, and I was headstrong. When I asked for my release, I had no idea how hard it would be to sign elsewhere, but if I had to do it again, I'd do it the same way. I never compromised my love of the game,” he said.

    Good Enough to Dream

    In 1983, Mike joined the Utica Blue Sox, the only independent team in organized baseball. Writer Roger Kahn (The Boys of Summer) was principal shareholder and president. Utica won the NY-Penn League championship in '83, to the chagrin of the farm system directors who had released many of the players on its roster.

    In his book, Good Enough To Dream, Kahn chronicles that season. Zamba, a starter at last, and—at age 24 something of an elder statesman—is mentioned often, sometimes for his pitching, sometimes as a team spokesman. A clear portrait emerges of an articulate, assertive, funny and hardnosed team player.

    Zamba won 12 games for the Sox, two in the final week. His 2.32 ERA, impressive at any level, is almost unheard-of in the low minors. Kahn describes him as an intelligent pitcher, adept at spotting the ball, changing speeds, mixing his pitches.

    "We were all unwanted orphans,” Mike remembers. "We were determined to show the organizations that dropped us that they had made a mistake. I was determined to prove that I was a starters. I'll never forget that experience.”

    Moving On

    Mike's performance with Utica was noticed. Oakland signed him for 1984. After Spring Training, Mike was farmed out to San Jose. Although not directly affiliated, the Bees weren't outcasts like the Blue Sox. Most players were under contract to a big league farm system. Optioning players to an understocked independent like San Jose ensured them more playing time.

    Steve Howe, Derrel Thomas and the others did not arrive until 1986, so Mike missed the Bad News Bees, but in 1985, after a so-so-season with San Jose, he played in the Italian "Spaghetti League.”

    "The umpires sear red and the strike zone changes every inning,” Mike recounts. "They drove us around in a Mercedes bus.”

    Comeback in the MSBL

    Mike married a local girl in San Jose, and stayed on after his retirement from baseball in 1986. Single again, he became General Manager of the Almaden Valley Athletic Club.

    He joined the San Jose MSBL in 1990 and played for the 1992 MSBL World Series Champions. Mike lost to San Diego in the qualifying round, yielding only two earned runs. Scheduled to pitch the Final, he came up sore. "My heart said ‘Throw!' but I knew it wasn't best for the team.” Rubber-armed John Yandle beat the San Diego Gems, as Mike cheered from the bench.

    Mike speaks highly of San Jose MSBL league president Ron Dunn and directors Buzz Sheridan, Ric Foley, Rod Jensen, Rich Kehrig and Dave Meier. "I respect the work they do. The competition is more intense every year, but they maintain a strict Code of Conduct. Three ejections and you're out of the league.”

    "The MSBL is the greatest thing since Abner Doubleday invented the game. It rekindles the same desires and passions that got us into baseball in the first place,” he says. "I've got a ring now, and a perfect game. I guess it's all downhill from here.”

    Mike Zamba's Minor League Record

    YEAR

    TEAM

    G

    W-L

    Sv

    IP

    H

    ER

    BB

    SO

    ERA

    1981

    Alexandria

    21

    3-1

    0

    47.1

    39

    10

    19

    39

    1.91

    1982

    Alexandria

    21

    3-3

    1

    98.2

    100

    42

    28

    55

    3.83

    1983

    Utica

    16

    12-2

    0

    97.0

    97

    25

    19

    70

    2.32

    1984

    San Jose

    14

    7-3

    0

    92.2

    105

    37

    25

    62

    3.59

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    POSTSCRIPT: Since this 1993 article was published, Mike Zamba took over as president of the San Jose MSBL in 1996, a post he still holds as of 2011. In 2011, Zamba received MSBL's highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. He has managed multiple MSBL World Series teams over the years.

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  • Comments on "Profile: Mike Zamba, San Jose MSBL"
    Hal Levin

    We are all deeply indebted to Mike for his dedication to the league and all the work he has done and is still doing to make adult men's baseball possible in the greater San Jose area. I joined the league in '92, and have been a Zamba fan ever since.

    Craig Jones

    Mike is a great competitor. I recall him taking the ball in Arizona in around 1999, after not having pitched all season. What did he do? Of course, he beat Atlanta putting us into the semifinals! I love having Mike in our organization. His passion is never lost!

    Fred DiPietro

    I got the opportunity to catch for Mike. I remember one game, a batter came up to the plate and after seeing one pitch from Mike, he called time and said he was going to get a heavier bat, meaning Mike wasn't throwing that hard. Well, I called time-out, went to the mound and told Mike what the batter said. When the batter returned to the batters box, with his heavier bat, Mike threw 3 fastballs and struck him out! 3 straight fastballs right down the middle. PRICELESS MEMORY

    Rod Jense

    I had the great honor of managing the team for San Jose in 1992 when Buzz Sheridan could not. Scared me to death! I knew in my heart that I could not carry any of their jocks let alone manage the team. But Mike Z and Mike Denevi said that they would help me run the team. My name is on the record as the Manager for the team that won it all, but we all know that without Mike Z and Mike Denevi, it never would have happened. Thank you both for all the help and support you guys gave me over the years! I am so thankful- The highlight of my MSBL career- Zam is the best and I have always respected his ethics and integrity- And not a bad Pitcher either!By the way, I remember the incident that Fred Dipietro refers to- Awesome!

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