C.J. Nitkowski is a left-handed pitcher who was the 9th overall selection in the first round of the 1994 Major League Draft, taken by the Cincinnati Reds. C.J. Pitched in the Major Leagues in 1995-96 and 1998-2005, compiling an 18-32 career record with a 5.37 ERA. His career spanned 336 games, all but 44 in relief.
During his 10 years in the Major Leagues, C.J. played for eight different teams; the Reds, Tigers, Astros, Mets, Rangers, Braves, Yankees, and Expos. Since 1995 C.J. has continued to play abroad for teams in Japan and most recently, Korea. As a left-handed pitcher with a passion for the game, he may play forever!
C.J. Nitkowski exchanged emails with me last year and answered questions regarding his experiences in baseball. It is rare to see a player who loves the game as much as C.J. and he still appreciates every day he spends on the playing field.
How did you first become interested in baseball?: I loved it as a kid. Always had a ball in my hand and was always throwing something. I would drive my grandmother crazy throwing a tennis ball off the side of her house in Yonkers, NY. If she only knew where I'd end up.
What pitches did you throw?: Fastball (4 & 2 seam), cutter, knuckle curve & changeup (fosh style)
What was the draft/scouting process like?: A whirlwind. I was a late bloomer. It wasn't until late in my junior year at St. Johns in NY that I realized I had a chance to get drafted high in the first round. My last couple of weeks in school there were scouts everywhere, watching me warmup, watching my games. It was a scene. At times there would be more scouts than teams in MLB. As a college kid it was pretty cool.
Who was your favorite coach/manager?:
Managers: Bobby Cox - Atlanta
Trent Jewitt - AAA Pittsburgh
Trent Jewitt - AAA Pittsburgh
Dan Warthan - Detroit
Mark Conner - Texas
What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: First win was pretty cool. 1995, 1-0 at the old Vet in Philly, vs. Schilling on ESPN. I threw 7 shutout, Jeff Brantley closed it out. I was 22. That was really neat. Lots of friends and family from NY there.
Favorite stadium or city to play in?: Always NY. Seattle is a favorite to pitch in too.
Who was the toughest hitter that you faced?: Juan Gonzalez was difficult because he had great plate coverage with power. He was a good player, he should have been one of the best all time.
Was playing abroad a fun experience or something needed to stay in the game?: Both. I love it. The experience has been amazing for both me and my family. At the same time I'm well aware of where I am in my career. I could have probably still pitched in AAA these past few years and maybe even battled my way back to the big leagues, but the money is good in most places on Asia. I am smart enough not to leave guaranteed money on the table.
What is one thing most people incorrectly assume about pro baseball players?: Everyone is rich. Most guys don't get big signing bonuses and most guys don't make it to the big leagues. Of the ones that do few stick around long enough to make real life changing money.
What have you done since you stopped playing?: Haven't stopped. Just signed with the Nexxen Heroes in Korea. I had an arm injury at the very end of '09. Been rehabbing and fighting to pitch another day and that opportunity is here.
Do you have any thoughts on the group of older non-vested players who are still seeking a pension?: I'm not aware of exactly which group you're talking about. To my knowledge any player with a minimum of 42 days of major league service time is in the pension plan. It gets prorated from there with the maximum benefits capping at 10 years.
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