C.J. Nitkowski once pitched for the Atlanta Braves. He's also pitched for a lot of other teams, and in doing so has plenty of stories about trying to make the opening day roster in spring training. His various accounts of trying to make opening day rosters throughout his career are a reminder that behind all of these players we discuss on this blog there is a person, there is a family, and there are all sorts of stories that we the fans never hear about.
Click here to read all of his "Cut Day Stories form Spring Training." Here is his story about making the Braves opening day roster in 2004
In the offseason I really thought my career might be over. The only team to call me and offer me a contract that winter was the Atlanta Braves. I couldn't believe it, the Atlanta Braves. Dayton Moore, the then assistant GM of the Braves had one caveat to the contract, no major league spring training. I was about to turn 31, I had been in big league camp my whole career, it was time to be humbled.
Dayton told me I had no chance to make the team, they saw me as a guy with a good arm but that needed work. They felt that under their system they could get me back on track and maybe if I was throwing well in the summer I could be a mid season call up for them in the big leagues.
It all sounded great, I was sold. I only asked Dayton for one thing: if they were going to make changes in my delivery could I start now (Dec) instead of waiting until spring training after already throwing at home for months? He liked my enthusiasm and sent me to Richmond, VA to work with their AAA pitching coach, Guy Hansen.
I had two sessions with Guy, he made some adjustments that I took to right away. I was suddenly getting much more sink on my two seamer and had some velocity increase. He had a direct line to John Schuerholz and recommended to him that I go to major league camp. I did. Guy actually wrote me, by hand, an invitation to the 2004 Atlanta Braves major league spring training on a scrap piece of paper from his barn in Richmond, VA, spelling my name wrong.
I had a good spring with Atlanta, one of my best. I threw the ball very well. Leo Mazzone was particularly hard on me in spring training. He rode me pretty good and there are a couple of good stories in there that I'm saving for the book.
We went to Atlanta to play some exhibition games but still no word on whether or not I made the team. Finally with one day to go Leo approaches me in the lunch room. "OK CJ, I guess we are going to give this a shot. You're on the roster." He couldn't have sounded any less enthused. I don't say that begrudgingly. I see Leo once in a while at Braves events here in Atlanta and our relationship is good, it was just how things were at the time. He didn't seem all that excited that I made the team. I however was excited, I went from getting no big league invite to being on the opening day roster.
There are some absolutely great stories collected here by CJ. He's also a neat player to follow on Twitter (@CJNitkowski), with great insights into the lesser known aspects of being a baseball player.