Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

An Owl pitching in the majors

“Cooney is going to produce dozens of Major Leaguers here real soon and I’ll be rooting them on.”

The last time he remembers stepping on the field as an Owl, C.J. Nitkowski was getting a face full of dirt as a run crossed the plate handing him his eighth loss of the season. At that time it was a new record for most losses at Florida Atlantic.

One school transfer, a mastered curve ball, 21 more collegiate wins, and less than 10 years later Nitkowski has become the only Owl to make it to the Major Leagues.

He’ll be the first person to admit that his struggles in his only season here, back in ’92, were more his fault than the team’s. “It wasn’t for me. I wanted to come to Florida and play baseball for a competitive team and Coach Cooney inspired me to come to Florida Atlantic. I didn’t think I’d miss home that much,” the New York native says.

Nitkowski wasn’t the only one that struggled for head coach Kevin Cooney in that year. The team finished at .500 with a 27-27 record while fellow pitchers Matt Kramer (7) and Tim Holley (6) finished with a combined 13 losses on the hill for Florida Atlantic.

Also, the team’s ERA was far from today’s standards. Even Kramer’s team leading 3.23 doesn’t crack the top 10 All-Time ERA Leaders List.

“I remember we were young. We all wanted to win, we just couldn’t find the tools to put it together. I admired Cooney and his knowledge, but Florida just wasn’t working out for me,” Nitkowski says. “I learned a lot from my year there but everything else was a bit hectic for me and I told my parents about it and I elected to transfer.”

Fittingly, Nitkowski became part of the Storm, the St. John’s University Red Storm in New York.

“I learned how to pitch at St. John’s. Coaches were great and it was nice to have my parents there,” Nitkowski says. “I’m sure Florida Atlantic could’ve offered me the same or maybe a better opportunity learning to pitch, but home was 20 hours away from Boca.”

Nitkowski, who also met his wife at St. John’s, pitched through his senior year in 1994 mastering what he calls a big league curve ball and guided St. John’s to their conference title. Following that season, Nitkowski was drafted in the 9th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 1994 and two years later made a relief appearance after being traded to the Detroit Tigers, becoming the only current Florida Atlantic pitcher, at any time, to make it to the big leagues, a fact that surprises Nitkowski.

“Really? That’s a shock. So, does that mean everyone has forgotten about my record setting losses?” says Nitkowski. “I don’t doubt I’ll be the last Florida Atlantic pitcher to make it to the majors. Coach Cooney and his staff are an elite group and I have no doubts about it.”

Florida Atlantic has had 18 players drafted, the highest being Tommy Murphy in 2000 who was drafted in the 4th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. None of the others have made it to the majors yet, although many like Zach Roper and Carmen Cali are putting up great numbers in the minors.

Being drafted is one thing and making it to the majors is completely different. 72 percent of all the players drafted this coming year will never make an official appearance in the majors. Which makes Nitkowski’s ride so incredible and a reason why he is our lone Major League player to date.

Nitkowski’s advice to them and players looking to be drafted this year: “Work, work, work in the minors. Prove people wrong over and over again and never be satisfied with anything.”

“Minors are tough on you,” Nitkowski says about the life in the minors. “You could be gone one day. You are alone because everyone is competing with you on the team so nobody wants to be friendly.”

Nitkowski admits there were times he thought about giving up and if it wasn’t for his wife’s support and his strong Christian beliefs he would have.

“I just knew God had a plan for me and all I had to do was go out there and give it my all,” Nitkowski says.

Despite Nitkowski’s remarkable accomplishment of making it to the majors, he’s struggled to keep his dream alive. He has been on four different teams, including the Tigers twice, and this past spring he was out of baseball for four months.

“[The] majors are tough,” Nitkowski admits. “When I got called up for the first time, I had a plan and I thought as long as I did what I had to do I’d be okay. I didn’t realize at that time that I was throwing to batters that had seen my plan and mastered it dozen of times before me.”

Nitkowski is currently pitching in the Texas Rangers organization as well as inspiring others with his beliefs. And even though he graduated from St. John’s he still keeps an eye on his old college team.

“I saw they won the Regionals last year. That’s incredible for the school,” Nitkowski says.

“Although the school and I didn’t match, there’s no question five years from now I am going to be telling the guys that I played there for a year and be more proud than I am now,” Nitkowski said. “I’ll be proud to be one of many Owl pitchers who are big leaguers. There’s no doubt about it, Cooney is going to produce dozens of them here real soon and I’ll be rooting them on.”

For more information on C.J. Nitkowski, go to www.cjbaseball.com

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