Friday May 28, 2004
TAMPA TOPPLES TWINS
TWINS MINOR LEAGUE REPORT
GOPHERS BASEBALL - GLEN PERKINS (UPDATED)
LAKERS TAKE 3-1 SERIES LEAD
FOR A LOOK AT MY ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY POSTING, CLICK HERE.
Q & A with CJ Nitkowski
Left-Handed Pitcher for the Atlanta Braves
Well, I have been talking the last couple of days about the exciting Q&A that I was able to have. Do you even know how difficult it has been for me to not tell anyone about it? Well, here we are, and if you read the title, you know who was gracious enough with his time to answer some of my questions. And, CJ, if you are reading this, I want to again thank you for doing this. It was fun, and I think that it turned out great.
CJ Nitkowski went to St. John's (NY) University and was drafted 9th overall in the 1994 draft by the Cincinnati Reds. After signing, he went to AA Chattanooga for the rest of the '94 season. He made eight AA starts in 1995, then six starts at AAA before the Reds called him up to Cincinnati. He made 9 appearances (7 starts) for the Reds before being being the key component that brought David Wells to the Reds from the Detroit Tigers. He stayed with the Tigers through the 1996 season.
After the season, CJ was traded by the Tigers with Brad Ausmus and Jose Lima to the Hoston Astros. Ironically, before the 1999 season, Nitkowski was again traded with Brad Ausmus back to the Detroit Tigers. Between 1999 and 2001, Nitkowski pitched in 191 games for the Tigers. Since then, he has been with the Mets, Cardinals, Astros (again) and Rangers organizations. Before this season, he signed with the Atlanta Braves and then made the team out of training camp. So far this season, CJ Nitkowski is 1-0 with a 4.50 ERA. He has pitched 12 innings in 15 games as a left-hander out of the Braves bullpen.
In spring training of 2002, CJ Nitkowski was released by the Houston Astros. In reality, it became a defining moment in not only his career, but also in his life. After reading the below Q&A, be sure to go to CJ's website and read CJ's Testimonial. It is really a remarkable story.
CJ had started his website in 2000 and I went there frequently because he wrote about baseball, fundamentals, off the field information about cities, clubhouses, food, golf and more. But after his events in the spring of 2002, CJ and his site changed. No longer was baseball his number one priority. Money was no longer as important. To CJ Nitkowski, the most important thing is to give glory to God.
It really is very interesting. I would encourage you to go to CJBaseball.com and read some of the great information he has put out there. So, not only has CJ been a solid big league pitcher in parts of nine major league seasons, but he is a great person who has his priorities in the right place. I feel very fortunate that he took time to do this for us. So, please, enjoy the below questions and answers. If you have any thoughts or comments, please send me an e-mail.
SethSpeaks: You were a first-round pick out of St. Johns (NY) in 1994 (9th overall). What was your baseball background to that point? Were you drafted out of high school? At what point did you realize that a professional baseball career was a possibility for you?CJ: I was not drafted out of high school but always believed I could play professionally (since I was about 9). It wasn't until my sophomore year in college did I know I had a real shot at playing pro baseball.
SethSpeaks: Where did your love of baseball come from? Did you participate in other sports growing up?
CJ: I played basketball in grade school and some high school. I really fell in love with baseball when I was a kid. I met Willie Randolph (Yankees 2B) when I was about 7 and that changed me too. I became a big Yankee fan from that point on.
SethSpeaks: You were called up fairly quickly by the Cincinnati Reds. What do you remember about your major league debut? What was going through your mind as you were preparing for that game?
CJ: I had a one inning relief stint before I made my first start 3 days later. There was no major league spring training that year (strike year) so I had never met anyone on the team until I was called up. I remember getting to the clubhouse about 12:00 for a night game. I walked in and mine was the first jersey I saw hanging in a locker, #49, I'll never forget that moment. Suddenly I looked around and realized this team was full of guys I had played with in a video game just over a year ago when I was college, Barry Larkin, Ron Gant, Deion Sanders, Jose Rijo, it was too cool.
SethSpeaks: Who have been some players or coaches that you would say were instrumental in your development as a player?
CJ: I had a great high school coach, Bill Stegle, who was dedicated as any coach I have ever had. Since I signed here back in November Guy Hansen and Leo Mazzone have helped me a ton and I feel the work I have done with them has best prepared me.
SethSpeaks: After being a starter early in your career, you gradually moved into the bullpen. What was that transition like? I imagine there are adjustments you have to make both physical (in terms of being able to throw less pitches, but more frequently) and mental (instead of trying to last 7 innings, your job is to get one, two or three outs)?
CJ: It almost seemed too easy at first, only 1 or 2 innings at a time. I think the biggest adjustment was to not keep throwing once I was loose. I would continue to throw even though I was already loose but not called into the game yet.
SethSpeaks: You have spent parts of nine seasons in the major leagues with the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Texas Rangers and now with the Atlanta Braves. What would you say is your favorite ballpark you've visited? Which city has the best food? What about best golf courses?
CJ: Seattle has a great park, but Yankee Stadium is the best. Boston is a fun place to play too, along with Wrigley Field. Old Tiger Stadium was pretty cool. NY has the best food, hands down. There are great golf courses everywhere, you just need to know where to go
SethSpeaks: When reading your website awhile back, I see that you give a lot of credit to Peter Munro for speaking to you in the bullpen one day about God and spirituality. (Munro is currently pitching well (6-2, 2.81 ERA) for the Twins AAA team in Rochester.)
SethSpeaks: First, what can you tell Twins fans about Peter Munro, the pitcher and/or the man?
CJ: Pete is a solid pitcher with good command. He can fill multiple roles as a starter or reliever. More importantly he has a solid relationship with Christ and is willing to stand up for Him.
SethSpeaks: Second, what was your reaction to his openness? Were you ready to hear and listen?
CJ: It threw me off at first, but it is what I needed at that time in my life. I was searching for answers and he helped quite a bit.
SethSpeaks: Your career has had plenty of ups and downs. That is, in many ways, the nature of the game of baseball. How has your relationship with God helped you through the low times?
CJ: I don't know how I made it through the first 7 years without Him. With God as the center of my life I have more peace and purpose in my everyday life. I understand the hard times and don't get too high during the good times, understanding that anything I accomplish is for His glory and not mine.
SethSpeaks: How have players treated you knowing of your beliefs? Is it ever an issue?
CJ: Never, guys know where I stand and there as never been any issues.
SethSpeaks: What other players or coaches have been instrumental in your growth as a person or as a Christian?
CJ: There have been a lot. God has surrounded me with great people throughout my 2+ year relationship with Him. Inside the game, Pete Munro, Brandon Puffer, Dave Matranga, Kevin Joseph, Kevin Ohme, Kyle Abbott, RA Dickey, Brian Schmack, Lee Tunnell, Todd Greene, Steve Sparks, Andy Pettitte, Chris Reitsma, Russ Ortiz, and John Smoltz are just a few off the top of my head.
SethSpeaks: I think many people have ideas as to the temptations available to a professional athlete. I'm sure you see and hear things that certainly go against your beliefs. What is it like in the clubhouse? Is it uncomfortable? Does it just come with the territory? Is it your job to say something to that person? Do you ‘lead by example’ in your words and deeds? I guess to summarize my long-winded question, is there a line drawn somewhere between spreading The Word and “being a disruption" in a clubhouse?
CJ: As Paul says, I try to be all things to all people but without crossing the line of sin. I would be mistaken to scorn someone for their actions. Remember what Christ said about the speck in someone's eye when you have a plank in your own, we are not to judge. There are some things I would rather not see or hear, but that is unavoidable. Christ came to save sinners, not those who claimed to be righteous. I understand we are in a fallen world and have been victim to my own fleshly desires many times in my life, I understand why those that are lost act the way they do.
SethSpeaks: I read in Sports Illustrated awhile back that your current teammate JD Drew has very strong religious beliefs as well. Some, according to these articles, have decided to make a connection saying that because of his beliefs, he is soft. Personally, I don't think that is at all fair. How would you respond to those who say that a believer cannot be tough or intense on the field?
CJ: I wrote a piece about that on my website titled Christian Athletes Are Soft. It was a sarcastic title and I address those issues (under Recent Updates). I find myself more aggressive and less self serving as a Christian athlete than when I was not one. I have to answer to a higher power now. God has given me this talent and not using it as aggressively as I can for Him is something I don't want to be apart of.
SethSpeaks: Your website also now has a number of devotionals or Bible studies on it. I understand that in many major league clubhouses, there are players who get together for Bible studies. How does this work? Where and when do players meet? Who leads? I always wondered how Sunday mornings work because it has to be hard to get to church with an early afternoon game time.
CJ: We have studies about once a week. We just meet in any room for about an hour. Tim Cash (UPI) leads those studies. Sunday mornings a rep from Baseball Chapel (also Tim Cash in Atlanta) will lead a 15-25 minute chapel session for us. We really have great resources.
SethSpeaks: Professional athletes make some pretty good coin. Is money a distraction in any way?
CJ: Not anymore than it is for the average person. We can all be distracted by the desire to achieve riches. If anything we are at an advantage because the opportunity to make a significant amount of money quickly is attainable and therefore the distraction of trying to achieve wealth can be satisfied and is no longer a distraction.
SethSpeaks: Back to the Braves briefly. Just a couple of quick questions. You're new to the team this season. What is it about Leo Mazzone that makes him such a good, well respected pitching coach?
CJ: He has a good plan, it has worked. They keep it pretty simple and focus on what has worked for the past 12 or so years. Not secret tricks or gimmicks.
SethSpeaks: What is the attitude with the Braves right now? After losing Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla and Greg Maddux to free agency in the offseason, and with the injuries to the likes of Chipper Jones, JD Drew, Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles, how does the team feel about where they are at this point in the season?
CJ: We would like to be doing better and we would like everyone to be healthy, but that is not the case right now. For the guys that have been here for a while they know what they are capable of and that anything is possible. For the new guys we know we are Atlanta Braves now and Atlanta Braves win division titles, period.
So, there you have it. My very first 'interview' with a major league ball player. Thank you to CJ Nitkowski again. Good luck with the Braves the rest of the season. Maybe we can be fortunate to have a repeat of the 1991 World Series when the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves in the best World Series every played.
Again, if you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
TWINS 4, DEVIL RAYS 5
Corey Koskie was back in the cleanup spot of the Twins lineup. In his first at bat, he hit a solo home run to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. In the 2nd inning, the Rays got RBI singles from Rey Sanchez and Carl Crawford to take a 2-1 lead. Then in the top of the 3rd, with Lew Ford and Cristian Guzman on base, Jacque Jones hit a big, three-run homer to give the Twins a 4-2 lead. However, in the bottom of the 4th, Carlos Silva gave Rocco Baldelli a meatball and Baldelli hit it off the catwalk above the field for a three-run homer to give the Rays the 5-4 lead that they maintained the rest of the game.
Carlos Silva is struggling. I think it could be one of two things. The White Sox crushed his pitches two games in a row, however, they may have also crushed some of his confidence. Another possibility is that the former reliever is tiring, or going through a dead arm period here. Either way, the fact is that he is now leaving pitches up in the strike zone, meaning more home runs. JC Romero and Joe Roa each pitched a scoreless inning.
Jason Standridge gave up four runs in his three innings, but then the rest of the bullpen shut down the Twins offense. John Halama, Jorge Sosa and Danys Baez combined for 6 shutout innings.
So, the Twins (26-20) lose another series and fall one game behind the White Sox (27-19) in the AL Central. Next up for the Twins is a three game home series against he Kansas City Royals (15-29). Royals GM Allard Baird says that he it not ready to start trading yet, but check back with him in a couple of weeks. The team is giving it one more run. To give themselves a chance to make a run, the Royals recalled phenom Zach Greinke from AA. Last Saturday, he made his big league debut in Oakland, against Barry Zito, on the day Reggie Jackson's uniform was retired. He got a no decision in 5 innings on the mound. The 20 year old was the Royals first round pick (6th overall) in 2002 out of his Orlando high school. His combination of control and stuff reminds many of the great Greg Maddux. Here are the weekend's pitching matchups:
Brad Radke (4-2, 3.77, 1.27, .297) vs Zach Greinke (0-0, 3.60, 1.20, .263)
Johan Santana (2-2, 5.60, 1.52, .301) vs Dennys Reyes (0-0, 2.51, 1.33, .231)
Kyle Lohse (1-4, 6.07, 1.78, .305) vs Jimmy Gobble (2-2, 4.28, 1.24, .259)
Any thoughts on the Twins or the Royals series? What do they need to do? E-mail me.
TWINS MINOR LEAGUE REPORTS
Redwings 5 vs, Norfolk 2 - The Redwings/Twins signed OF Todd Dunwoody to a minor league contract. Yesterday was his second game with the team. He made his presence known. He went 4-4 with a 3B and a HR. Jason Kubel had another double. Matt Guerrier was great again. He went 7 innings and gave up just one run. He walked two and gave up 5 hits while striking out 4. Jesse Crain came in for the save and had another 1-2-3 inning.
Elvis Corporan, who I learned had been in the Yankees system the last few years, had never been about single A ball in his career. In just a week's worth of games with Rochester, he was hitting .467. Anyway, he was sent down to AA New Britain to make room for Michael Restovich, who was sent back from the Twins, on the roster. The Redwings finish their series with Norfolk today before starting a four game series against Toledo. Joe Mauer will play for the Redwings starting today and will continue his rehab assignment with the team through the weekend. He should be back to the Twins at the beginning of next week.
NEW BRITAIN ROCK CATS
Rockcats 2, Bowie 3 - New Britain managed just four hits yesterday and it just wasn't enough. 1B Billy Munoz went 3-4 with a two-run homer, his 5th of the year. Rob Bowen had the other hit, and a walk. Luis Maza was 0-2, but had 2 walks. Boof Bonser pitched well, ok, adequate, again. He gave up 3 earned runs in 7 innings. He issued two walks to go with 9 hits. He struck out four. But he also gave up two home runs, the 8th homers of the season for both Val Majewski and Eli Whiteside. Beau Kemp pitched two perfect innings to end the game.
The Rockcats start a four game series against Altoona.
FORT MYERS MIRACLE
Miracle 3, Daytona - The Miracle got a wonderful pitching performance from Francisco Liriano. In 8 shutout innings, he gave up just 3 hits and a walk. He also struck out 7. Travis Bowyer pitched a perfect 9th inning, to lower his amazing ERA to 0.33. 2B Felix Molina went 2-4 with a double. The Miracle will now start a two game series against Tampa.
THE SWING OF THE QUAD CITIES
Swing 1, Wisconsin 0 - Another excellent pitching performance. Adam Harben started and went 6 innings. He gave up three hits and two walks and struck out eight. Julio DePaula pitched the last three innings for his 3rd Save. He gave up 2 hits and 3 walks and struck out one. DH Dusty Gomon's 4th homer of the season was the only run of the game.
The Swing now start a four game series against Clinton.
Any questions or comments on the Twins minor league system, e-mail me.
GOPHERS BASEBALL - GLEN PERKINS (UPDATED)
UPDATE - The Gophers won their first game of the Big 10 Tournament 6-1 yesterday. Glen Perkins was incredible. He pitched a complete game (9 innings) and gave up just 2 hits and walked none. He gave up one unearned run and struck out 15 Boildermakers.
Glen Perkins will be on the mound when the Minnesota Gophers try to win the Big 10 baseball tournament. The sophomore lefty is the team's best pitcher and a likely first round pick in the June baseball draft which is in about two weeks. Going into the season, it was believed that he could be a 3rd or 4th round pick, but now he is being discussed as a first round pick. Because the Twins have the 20th, 22nd and 25th overall picks, it is very possible that they would use one of those picks on Perkins. Will Kimmey is an excellent writer for Baseball America magazine who writes a lot about college baseball. I asked him about Glen Perkins. Here is what he said:
Perkins has shown improved command of an 88-92 mph fastball and a changeup that tails away from righthanded hitters. It's a pitch he developed when he sat out his true freshman year because of academic problems. Both pitches can be plus pitches, and Perkins also throws a curveball that's average to above. He's never lost a Big 10 game, going 15-0 in two seasons. Oh, and he's lefthanded, which could alleviate any concerns about his 5-foot-11, 190-pound frame. All that makes him attractive to the Twins with one of their five choices before the second round.
WOLVES LOSE GAME 4
Was I the only person who found last night's Wolves/Lakers game really, really hard to watch? I am usually quick to back the NBA and its style of play. But what we saw last night was not even basketball. Sure, we saw a lot of skill and some good shooting, but I saw a football game. I absolutely hate when people talk about the refs. If I'm a referee (or an umpire in baseball) and a player comes up to me and says, "Hey, you missed that one!", they should just say, "Hey, how many shots have you missed tonight?" I'm fully behind the refs most of the time.
However, what we saw last night was absolutely ridiculous. In Game 3, the officials called a substantial amount of fouls against the Wolves and few against the Lakers. Now, that really didn't even bother me because I do know that the Wolves are a jump shooting team so there won't be as many fouls. However, in Game 4, the Wolves came out and were very aggressive, driving to the glass. There was a lot of contact where a foul absolutely should have been called. To the refs benefit, the were consistently horrible last night. They called nothing either way. I have never been so frustrated by officiating!
Now, a lot of fans want to blame or hate Shaquille O'Neal because he creates contact and most people seem to think every time he touches someone, it should be a foul because he's so big. I am definitely in disagreement with all of that. I believe that Shaq gets beat up more and more fouls should be called for him, not against him. During the regular season, I think the officials do a pretty good job of making calls on or for Shaq. However, it is very clear, and it's no secret, we've all known it for a long time, in the playoffs, the stars do not get called for fouls. There is no way that a star will pick up a 2nd technical foul and there is no way a star will be allowed to foul out. That's just the way it is.
But wait, how many fouls did Kevin Garnett have in Game 3? That's right. 6. Hmmm... Garnett was only the league's MVP, but there is no way that he gets a call in the playoffs when the other team has Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. You won't hear me complain about O'Neal, but Bryant gets breathed on wrong and it's a foul.
All that complaining aside, the better team won again last night. The Lakers played a better game. Kobe Bryant shot great and Shaq was dominant. Derek Fisher and Karl Malone contributed significantly. Kevin Garnett was quietly incredible again last night. He just didn't have a lot of support.
Kobe Bryant led the Lake Show with 31 points and 8 boards. Shaq had 19 points and rebounds. Derek Fisher added 15 and Karl Malone had 12 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. Oh, Devean George had another really nice dunk.
Kevin Garnett was an assist away from a triple-double. He had 28 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists. Latrell Sprewell didn't shoot well (he was 4-18 from the field), but to me, he was a victim of the lack of calls. He did exactly what we all thought he should do, he drove and created contact. If he gets some of those calls (as he should have) he hits some free throws and maybe some of his other shots fall. Wally Szczerbiak scored 19 points on 6-15 shooting. He was helped by the six technical foul free throws that he shot and made. That was about it for the Wolves. Sam Cassell did not start the game. He came in for five minutes in the second half and hit one three pointer, but that was it.
I really think that the Wolves will find a way to win Game 5 Saturday night in Minneapolis (7:30). I think part of doing that is not having Sam Cassell play. Let Darrick Martin know he's starting and prepare to start. Sit Cassell.
Whatever happens, if I read an article in the newspaper showing any negative talk about the Wolves 2003-04 season, I will be really upset! If they lose the series to the Lakers, it is not an upset. Had they lost to the Kings, it would not have been an upset. The Wolves have absolutely nothing to prove to their fans or the media any more. Hopefully they come out loose and Flip Saunders has a good plan for them that they are able to execute.
Do you have any thoughts on last night's game? Am I wrong on the officiating? What do you think? Can the Wolves win Game 5? Send me an e-mail.
That is it for today and for this week. Have yourself a great Friday and a wonderful, relaxing Memorial Day Weekend! Because of the holiday, I will not be in town, so there will not be a new entry until Tuesday morning. Don't be mad! Ha! As always, if you have any questions or comments on anything, please e-mail me.
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