added 07/23/01 by Ray Kerby
C.J. Nitkowski was a lefty reliever for the Astros during their dominating 1998 season. He is also one of a small group of major-leaguers that have their own website. I was able to contact C.J. through his website, C.J. Baseball, and he graciously agreed to do an email interview. I tried my best to think of questions that Astros fans would ask C.J. about his baseball career, so I hope you enjoy the read!
C.J. Nitkowski: Yes. Meeting Willie Randolph when I was a kid in NY. After I met him, I knew I wanted to do what he did.
RK: Did you have a favorite team? Who was your idol? Why did you like him?
CJ: The Yankees. Randolph, Righetti, & Guidry.
RK: When you first made it to the bigs, who were some of your mentors? How did they help you?
CJ: I got a lot of help from a lot of people along the way. There was no one mentor for me. I was influenced by Jose Rijo and John Smiley a lot when I was in Cincy.
RK: When you came into the major-leagues as a starter, you struggled quite a bit with the Reds. How did you deal with the tough days you had?
CJ: It was hard, I was in a tailspin for about a year and a half. I put so much pressure on myself at 22 years old. I thought I had to be perfect. In time I learned to deal with it and get back to the big leagues.
RK: After you were traded to the Astros, the first thing they did was give you another year in the minors before bringing you up as a reliever. Did that extra year help? Was it difficult adjusting to the new role?
CJ: I had not spent a full season in the minors until 1997. I had more time in the big leagues then I did in the minors at the time. It was a great move for me, even though I probably didn't realize it at the time. I knew in 1998 that if I were to make the team it was going to be in the bullpen. That was fine by me, I wanted to be in the big leagues and be a contributor. I made the adjustment quickly.
RK: The one season you played with the Astros, 1998, was the winningest in franchise history. What was it like playing on such a strong team?
CJ: It was a great season. Every day we took the field the attitude was like, "Who are we going to beat today". Winning is fun and it seemed to come easy for that team. A memorable year that ended on a bad note, we expected to go further.
RK: In your season with the Astros, who were some of the players you got along with? Any funny stories?
CJ: All of the pitchers for the most part. Lots of funny stories, just none I am going to share with you.
RK: How did you deal with the disappointing losses in the 1998 playoffs?
CJ: It was difficult, we got whooped. Such a good season, so many post season expectations and it was over in the blink of an eye.
RK: What have been your fondest memories from your playing days so far?
CJ: I hope the best memories are in front of me, but my first appearance in the bigs was cool. My first win (1-0) vs Curt Schilling in Philly was fun, and my first hit using Deion Sanders bat was a cool memory.
RK: Who was the toughest batter you had to face and why?
CJ: Tino Martinez has hit me well, so has Carlos Delgado. Why? Because they are good major league hitters.
RK: How did you feel about being traded back to Detroit?
CJ: At the time I was a little disappointed. I just bought a house in Houston and I loved playing there. We had four lefties in our bullpen to end the season, I wanted a move to be made, I had just hoped it wouldn't have been me.
RK: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring pitchers?
CJ: Yeah, throw strikes.