Simon Ferrer wasn't born a knuckleball pitcher. Far from it.
He grew up a promising infielder in a baseball family -- his father, Al Ferrer, was the head coach at UC Santa Barbara and still teaches sports management at the school. But instead of becoming a Gaucho, Ferrer attended Pepperdine and eventually signed a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
He was let go after two years in that organization and signed with the Rockies, becoming one of the original Modesto Nuts in 2005. He hit only .209 that season and was on his way out of baseball.
But late that season, while playing catch with Ian Stewart and throwing a mean knuckleball, Ferrer caught the eye of Nuts hitting coach Glenallen Hill. Hill told Ferrer that his pitch moved enough to where he should consider giving pitching a try.
On Aug. 22, 2005, with the Nuts trailing by 15 runs in the ninth inning of a home game against Visalia, Ferrer stepped on the mound for the first time as a professional and worked a scoreless inning. He's been a pitcher ever since.
Brian VanderBeek: Had you ever pitched before at any level?
Simon Ferrer: I pitched an inning in high school and got bombed. Never in college, then that one inning. Everybody tries to throw a knuckler, especially in Whiffleball. I've always thrown it, and Glenallen told me that if the team was in a blowout, he'd give me a shot.
BVB: What do you remember about that night you got to pitch, other than the score being 17-2 in the ninth inning?
SF: My fastball must have been the best ever, because I had adrenaline coming out my ears. I don't know that I'd ever been that excited. It was fun because the other team knew what was going on, and I was trying to be serious. It seemed so easy that time, and now every out is so important.
BVB: What you might not remember is that the Nuts came back to score four runs in the bottom of the ninth and had the bases loaded with one out before falling only 12 runs short of getting you the win.
SF: We were down 15 as I came off the mound, and Butch Hughes walked over to me and said "If we tie it up, you're going back out there." I knew he was kidding, but I stayed serious.
BVB: But you suddenly were a pitcher and had to change everything about your off-season in order to get ready for the next year.
SF: I played college ball with Aaron Hough, who is Charlie Hough's son. Charlie has been more than helpful to me.
BVB: Wait a second, that's illegal. He's a coach for Inland Empire.
SF: I spoke to him a couple nights ago, and he told me I'd better figure it out before we face them, because they're going to be hitting it all over the park.
BVB: What was it like going to spring training for the first time as a pitcher?
SF: The difference was night and day. As an infielder, I was there at 7 a.m. for extra hitting, and taking ground balls and doing sprints and weightlifting. Now, I get to throw knuckleballs all day, which is fun, but I know that the important thing for me is to make my 200 throws a day.
BVB: Then there's the adjustment in the season of getting to play once every five days.
SF: I was a utility guy anyway, so I played once every three days or so. But I enjoy being a starter, having the days off and knowing the routine I need to be in. When I was a reliever in that first year, I had to play catch once or twice during the game just to keep the feel of the pitch. That was a tougher routine. I like where I am right now and where I'm going.
BVB: The knuckleball itself is such a strange animal. When you go to the mound, do you know what you have that night?
SF: If I'm coming out of the bullpen and the catcher just had a hard time catching it, or I'm able to put it where I want to, I know I'm not going to hurt myself. The other days, when the ball doesn't move, it's tough trying to get the feel. It's a tough beast to conquer.
BVB: You were the scheduled starter in Lancaster the night the winds blew 50 miles an hour and the game was postponed. What would your knuckleball have done in that kind of wind?
SF: It would have been a disaster, and we all knew it. We were laughing about it. I walked seven in the previous start. For me to battle myself and those winds, even if I was on, it would have been a disaster.
BVB: Would the ball have reached home plate?
SF: Jay Cox said he wanted to see someone take a swing and then have the ball stop in midair in front of home plate. It was a good thing that one got canceled.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.