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 Minor League News & Autograph Blog Home

Autograph Zone - C.J. Nitkowski

By Paul Gierhart

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?

C.J.: Tee-ball, 7 years old. Willie Randolph was probably my favorite.

TPA: 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 it.

TPA: While attending Don Bosco (NJ) High Scholl did you excel @ baseball and what were your senior stats?

C.J.: I 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 state title.

TPA: How and where did you show case your baseball talent before/after graduating from high school?

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?

C.J.: 1 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 Mud hens
(AAA Tigers) three years later.

TPA: What was your fondest memory of your college baseball career?

C.J.: 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)?

C.J.: 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.

TPA: What was your 1994 season at Chattanooga like and what was your biggest adjustment(s)?

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
advancing their career.

TPA: Describe your minor league experience and what advise would you give a minor leaguer playing today?

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 minors.

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 true blessing.


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