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Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa comes out of retirement for joy of the game

Hudson Valley Renegades manager Tim Parenton goes over

Hudson Valley Renegades manager Tim Parenton goes over the grounds rules with Brooklyn Cyclones manager Tom Gamboa at Dutchess Stadium on June 18, 2014 in Wappingers Falls, New York. Photo Credit: AP / Brian Westerholt

Tom Gamboa got up from behind his desk at Brooklyn's MCU Park and quietly shut the door on the rollicking music coming from his clubhouse.

He said he loves it and he loves the youthful exuberance that surrounds him in this, his first season as manager of the Cyclones. But ever since an alcohol-fueled father-son duo attacked the then-Royals first- base coach on the field at the new Comiskey Park in Chicago -- an infamous incident in September 2002 that seemed to play on a perpetual ESPN loop -- he's lost part of his hearing in his right ear.

"Anytime something like this happens," he said, indicating the interview, "it always gets brought up . . . And I have a constant reminder . If it's just you and I, I'm fine. But with distractions of the music, I only pick up some of the words because I have trouble filtering."

His tone was easy and matter-of-fact, as if that was the only thing he lost that day. And if people need proof that the ugly incident tainted his hearing but not his love of the game, they can head to Coney Island. There they'll find Gamboa, 66 years old and 2,700 miles from his home in Palm Springs, California, jostled out of happy retirement and absolutely enjoying every moment.

He talked about his crew -- mostly 18- to 22-year-olds -- with earnestness and enthusiasm. "I've got some really good talent," he said, "but I also have great makeup guys."

He thinks Amed Rosario, the team's 18-year-old shortstop, could have a great major-league future. Third baseman Jhoan Urena is on his way to being a legitimate five-tool player.

Gamboa has plans to optimize team chemistry, and on the next road trip, he's having Spanish-speaking players room with English-speaking players.

"It's another tool for getting the team to bond together," he said. "As I told the players, unless you guys don't speak at all to your roommate, over six days, the Americans will learn a few words in Spanish and hopefully the Latins will learn a few words of English."

Right now, he's intent on fostering good habits, bolstering confidence and smashing the high school mentality that two bad days means a bad season.

"They're young guys,'' he said. "We look at ourselves as coaches, number one, but for these kids who are away from home the first time, you essentially become a substitute parent. You're a counselor. You try to keep their confidence level up when it's about to go down.''

Gamboa seemed completely immersed in his role -- which isn't bad, considering that he wasn't going to take the job in the first place.

"I was happy in retirement,'' said Gamboa, who left professional baseball in 2011 to spend time with his terminally ill mother. "I got to spend 15 months with my mom, which a lot of people don't get . . . When my mom passed, I had five kids and seven grandkids, and I was spending time with them that I had missed because of baseball and I was playing a ton of golf.''

He went to Europe a few times. He went to the movies a lot. He was financially stable thanks to his baseball pension and finally had a schedule that wasn't color-coded and couldn't be tacked to the wall months in advance.

"I had no trouble filling the days,'' he said. "And I really liked being in control.''

Gamboa looked up at the Cyclones' schedule, color-coded and tacked to the wall.

"I never had that freedom,'' he said. "In baseball, the schedule tells you to go every day. I was flattered, but I wasn't even going to consider it.''

The Mets called him right before spring training and Gamboa said they should look for someone younger. The Mets said they wanted someone experienced. He took a few days.

"I had time to think about it and thought about how it was my whole life and how much fun it was,'' he said, "and then it was a no-brainer to say yes. And I had a great time from the first day. It's rejuvenated me.''

So yes, there's a schedule on the wall. Yes, he's eating rapidly cooling Chinese food in the basement of a ballpark instead of fresh seafood on the coast of the Mediterranean. And yes, he'll spend this summer trying to teach a bunch of 20-year-olds what it means to play professional baseball.

But this summer, Gamboa wouldn't have it any other way.

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