(Zach Staniewicz pitching knuckleballs for the Perth Heat in Australia)
Zach Staniewicz came to me a long time ago. I mean, a long time ago. I remember the day he drove up to my alma mater at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was riding in a mid-sized pickup truck with his mom. We met in a parking lot in the middle of winter; breath and exhaust clouding into the air.; road salt crunchy under foot. I guided him to the indoor batting cages.
There, I started to teach him everything I knew about the knuckleball. I am only a few years older than Zach, so I was still in the middle of figuring it out myself. But the kids was a little bigger than me, which isn’t easy; i stand six foot four inches tall. And he had a great arm. He could hit upper 80’s. So when he called me a little while back to tell me he was throwing 90 in Orioles Spring Training Camp, I wasn’t surprised.
(Chris Nowlin & Zach Staniewicz showing knuckleball grips at UMass Amherst in the early 2000’s)
Zach Staniewicz signed to play with the Orioles at the age of 27. Before that, he had a short stint playing independent professional baseball as an outfielder. Zach turned himself into a knuckle ball pitcher and the Orioles took notice. Actually, Phil Niekro took notice.
Zach struggled a little bit with the identity. He would call me and I would reassure him that it was OK to make the transition to the knuckleball; that you could walk around confident in a 60 mile-per-hour pitch. After a few of these conversations, he let it sink in — to full effect.
The Orioles sent Zach out to Perth, Western Australia for some winter ball, where he put up and astonishing 0.55 ERA. It’s a little strange because that is where I played winter ball about 4 years ago, but I didn’t put up numbers like that. Now he returns to the states to partake in the adventure that is the 2014 season.
Zach Staniewicz’s success illustrates a few different things
- the knuckleball can be taught
- your age doesn’t matter
- confidence and the mental game are incredibly important
All of these things are addressed in Knuckleball Nation the Instructional DVD.