January 21, 2007

JOURNEYMAN TO THE EAST:

The Eastern league calls: Nitkowski takes his game to Japan (Associated Press, January 21, 2007)

Packing suitcases is nothing new for the 33-year-old [C.J.] Nitkowski, who grew up in Suffern, N.Y., and went to college at St. John's. He has pitched for 11 major league organizations, including both New York teams, Cincinnati, Detroit, Texas and Atlanta - and has almost every cap and locker nameplate to prove it. [...]

The No. 9 overall pick in the 1994 draft, Nitkowski has an 18-32 career record and 5.37 ERA mostly as a middle reliever.

He hasn't pitched in the bigs since 2005 and his career hit a lull when he spent all of last season with Pittsburgh's Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis.

"Honestly, physically, I feel like I'm still on top of my game," he said. "I know a lot of older guys probably say that, but there's no doubt in my mind that I've been the best I've ever been these last two years. When you struggle for a while, it's hard to get opportunities. You just have to fight your way through it."

With no set Major League Baseball deal and the possibility of spending another year riding buses in the minors, Nitkowski weighed his options. He got a call in September from former major leaguer Lee Tunnell, one of his previous coaches.

Tunnell now works for the Hawks and asked Nitkowski if he was interested in coming to Japan.

After turning down an opportunity to play there in 2003, he and his wife thought the idea of going to the Far East was, well, far out.

"The fact that it's guaranteed money, it's a no-brainer," he said. "I had to take it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 21, 2007 8:27 AM
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