We have been given a rare opportunity to ask a major
league baseball player about hisearlyexperiences in baseball. C.J.
Nitkowski was drafted in the 1994 June draft (ninth overall) bythe
Cincinnati Reds. Nitkowski spent the summer of ’94 and begun the 95’
season at Double A Chattanooga.
He earned a promotion to Indianapolis May 15th after going
4-2 in eight starts and 52 strikeouts. After making six starts in
Indianapolis he jumped to the major league on June 2. He then was acquired
by Detroit along with Dave Tuttle and a player to be named (Mark Lewis) on
July 31, 199, in exchange for David Wells. Began the 1996 season at Triple
A Toledo and appeared in 17 games. Tossed at least five innings in each of
his starting assignments for the Mud Hens, averaging 6.1 innings per
start. His 96 strikeouts ranked second in the International League at the
time of his recall... also ranked among the league’s leaders with 104.2
innings pitched (fourth).
Led the American Association in strikeouts with 141 and
ranked second in the league in innings pitched with 174.1 in 1997 at
Triple A New Orleans. Produced his only complete game of the year, a
nine-inning effort on May 22 at Omaha, allowed seven hits and two earned
runs, walked two and struck out eight. From June 9 through the end of the
season, he went 6-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 16 starts (37ER/99.0IP). From
August 7-23, he allowed only two earned runs over four starts, going 3-0
with an 0.61 ERA (2ER/29.2IP).
Twice fanned a season-high nine, first on July 2 at Omaha
and again on August 13 at Iowa...also had four, eight-strikeout games and
fanned seven once.
TPA: What are your earliest childhood memories of
baseball and who was your favorite player?
7 years old. Willie Randolph was probably my favorite.
Did you participate in organized baseball as a kid? If, yes, what level(s)
did you play and did you play on any special teams?
C.J.: I played organized baseball from age 7 through
college. No real special teams, one team for NJ that I played on two
different summers that traveled to Canada that was about
TPA: While attending Don Bosco (NJ) High Scholl did you
excel @ baseball and what were your senior stats?
don't have my senior stats off hand, but I do remember my sophomore
year being my biggest season, I was 7-1 that year and we won the
TPA: How and where did you show case your
baseball talent before/after graduating from high
C.J.: A couple of open tryouts, that was about it.
I was average at best in high school.
TPA: What was
your college baseball experience like at St. Johns (NY) University and how
was it different from high school ball?
C.J.: Things are a
lot more intense at the college level and obviously more competitive.
When you get to college you have the best players from high schools from
all over the place. SJU was a great experience for me; going to college in
NYC you learn great life lessons.
TPA: Did you participate
on any other teams during the college off-season?
year I spent in the Great Lakes League and played for the Toledo Glass
Sox. That was the summer on 1993; ironically I played for the Toledo
(AAA Tigers) three years later.
TPA: What was
your fondest memory of your college baseball career?
We won the Big East Title in 1993 and went to the regionals. We had to
beat ASU to go to the College World Series. That was a nice moment
for a school
from the Northeast. Earlier that year I got wins vs. # 20
Clemson and # 11 Arizona in one week in a tourney out in Fresno, CA.
That was a special moment for me.
TPA: What were your
feelings before, during and after the 1994 June Draft and did you feel you
would be drafted in the first round (ninth overall)?
Unlike most 1st rounders I wasn't aware I would drafted so high until
about 2 weeks before the draft. When the season started I made the
Baseball America Top 100 College Prospects list. I was the very last
pitcher listed, I was pretty excited about. I was told I might be a 10th
rounder before the season started. As the year went on I kept hearing my
name climb, 8th
round, 6th, 4th, etc. Just before the draft I was
keyed in that I would be getting a call shortly after the draft began. At
that point I was actually expecting to be picked by Colorado, 8th pick,
just because of all the
interest they showed. After the draft, I was
elated, and was sent to AA Chattanooga. It seems like yesterday, but at
the same time seems like a long, long time ago.
was your 1994 season at Chattanooga like and what was your biggest
C.J.: I thought I had a terrible year after
the season was over, 6-3 with a 3.50 as I look back wasn't so bad for a
college kid sent right to AA. I guess I had really high expectations of
myself and was somewhat of a perfectionist. I guess the biggest
adjustments to pro ball was that guys in the minors were not about winning
and losing but more about getting to the next level and
TPA: Describe your minor league experience
and what advise would you give a minor leaguer playing
C.J.: The minors can be tough, and I had it pretty
easy. Never having to play rookie or A-ball as I look back was a
blessing. You hear stories of guys all the time spending 4-5 years, even
more just trying to get to AA. It can be pretty grueling, especially if
you were not a high round draft pick. MY best advice, before you
sign, make sure you have at least some of your college completed and if
you can negotiate it in your signing bonus, have the rest of your
college paid for by the team that signs you. They usually will do that.
The odds are stacked way against you to get to the big leagues and they
are even higher to actually stick in the big leagues for any significant
amount of time. Your opportunities are slim, be ready every chance you
have to play
and don't let the negativity that comes from other
players get you down. It is a pretty common thing in the
TPA: What one special thing (outside of baseball)
do you want your fans to know about you?
C.J.: As much as
I love playing baseball, I love being a dad and a husband more. And the
fact that baseball allows me to spend more time with my family than
the average 9-5 er (at least it does in the off-seasons) I consider a