Chavez: Hey C.J., would you please tell our readers a little bit about where you came from and what called you to play baseball?
Nitkowski: I grew up in Suffern, NY and have loved to play the game for as long as I can remember. Living in a suburb of NYC I grew up a Yankee fan. Going to Yankee Stadium with my dad only encouraged me more to pursue my dream.
Chavez: You were selected ninth overall in the 1994 Major League Baseball Draft by the Cincinnati Reds. Did being selected that high in a draft ever put a lot of unwanted pressure on you?
Nitkowski: Not at all, it only afforded me more opportunity. Having that 1st round pick stigma attached to you gave you more of a look from teams. I just played the game. I had no control over where I got drafted.
Chavez: You made your major league debut on June 3 rd, 1995. Can you please describe what that was like and the emotions that you felt during the game?
Nitkowski: It was exactly one calendar year from the day I signed with the Reds. I threw an inning of relief, allowing one base runner on a single. I don’t even remember who hit it. I just remember sweating a lot, walking off the mound and into the Reds’ dugout thinking to myself “What just happened? Where am I right now?” It felt like a dream.
Chavez: That same season, you were converted into a reliever. What was it like making the adjustment from being a starter to a bullpen guy?
Nitkowski: It was an easy adjustment for me. I discovered I had a rubber arm and stayed healthy for 16 years. At first only pitching 1 or 2 innings seemed almost easy compared to being a starter. After a couple of years 2 innings seemed like I just climbed a huge mountain. Your perspective changes after being in the bullpen.
Chavez: What might make converting a pitcher from a reliever to a starter and then back such a complicated procedure? The Yankees have done it with Joba and it didn’t work out until just this year. Did you see anything different done in his mechanics or his approach to the game that made the change work out?
Nitkowski: The back and forth stuff is hard, the indecisiveness and speculation from the press had to make his situation more difficult than it was for me. My only chance of making the big league team in 1998 was as a reliever, starting wasn’t an option for me, I had no issues with it. Joba seems much better suited to be a reliever from my outside perspective. He looks more comfortable and is much more efficient. I leave him there. He can handle the 8th and in a couple of years could be the regular 9th inning guy as well.
Chavez: You played for three teams, the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees, and the Minnesota Twins in 2004. What was it like changing teams so often in just one season? Can you pinpoint one reason why it was done so much?
Nitkowski: Actually Minnesota was just spring training and in 2005. In 2004 I was in Atlanta, Columbus and NY. I’ve done worse. In 1995, my first full year in the game I played in Chattanooga, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Detroit. In 2002 I was in New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Texas. It happens, it’s my career, it’s always been like this. I’m used to it. There are multiple reasons: I’m left handed, I have a good arm, I’m inconsistent and I am a former first round pick. Take out the inconsistency and I stay in one place for a long time. With it I’m all over the place. It is what it is and I’ve learned to just accept it and ride it out.
Chavez: C.J., you played for both the New York Mets and the New York Yankees. What environment and clubhouse did you enjoy more?
Nitkowski: I actually loved them both. Neither was better than the other. The Mets guys’ that year may have been a little more laid back but it was still a blast to play for both.
Chavez: After having your travels in the United States you went to Japan and were coached by the legendary Sadaharu Oh. How can you describe the man after spending two years under his guidance?
Nitkowski: Mr. Oh is a living deity in Japan, he has no equivalent in the States. He is a gentleman and very kind. He is passionate about the game. He is extremely demanding on his players and doesn’t quite understand failure sometimes making it difficult to play for him. All in all it was a treat to play for him although frustrating at times.
Chavez: Last year you were in Korea playing for the Doosan Bears. What is different in Korea after playing baseball in the United States and Japan?
Nitkowski: Currently I am a free agent finishing up rehab on my shoulder. I loved Korea. At first I was really reluctant to go but it was cool. I love the international experience and seeing the game played in Asia. Korea and Japan are quite different. Koreans are more like Americans, they have an edge to them and play the game aggressively. Japan is more fundamentally strong but with less power and less aggressiveness. It’s neat to see how each culture handles and teaches the game.
Chavez: In 2002, you converted to Christianity after a close call by your son in a swimming pool. How strong has your faith been since the conversion?
Nitkowski: My faith has changed my life and my perspective on my career. That continues today. At times my walk waivers and I’m never always the man I want to be for Christ. My imperfections keep me close to Him. I’m not perfect and I never will be. Fortunately we have Christ to fill the void.
Chavez: Last year, you made headlines after being interviewed by the FBI as they were investigating Roger Clemens and a perjury case. You said that you had never seen Roger or Andy Pettitte take performance enhancing drugs. Andy later on admitted that he in fact did take it before. Have you ever had your thoughts about what made Roger so good?
Nitkowski: Not really. In all areas of my life I have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. So while what he did at such a late age was amazing I never really went down the path of wondering if he was cheating or not.
Chavez: What is your relationship with Roger and Brian McNamee like today?
Nitkowski:I haven’t seen Roger since I last worked out with him which was either the off season of 2005 or 2006. Mack and I connect a few times a year. Geographically it doesn’t work out for me to train with him anymore.
Chavez: What advice would you like to give young baseball players around the world today?
Nitkowski: Having a 10 year son I am starting the see the insanity that goes on with young baseball players today. Have fun, this is a game. So few men make it the big leagues, if it’s your dream then pursue it with passion. Always make sure you are having fun. It’s a great game and I love it. When I was 7 years old I wanted to be a Yankee and although I never reached the level of stardom I dreamed of in 2004 God let that dream become a reality. There were so many times I thought my career was over but I continued to pursue my dream with passion and had great support from my family. You just never know what can happen.
It was a pleasure to have you as a guest for Bleacher Report. I wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors. It was an honor to get to know you.
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