While at the Atlantic 10 conference tournament hosted by Fordham University at their Rose Hill campus in the Bronx yesterday, I was struck by how enjoyable it was to watch a good old fashioned baseball game. There were no blistering 100 mph arms on the mound and neither were there over the top muscle bound giants hitting 450 foot bombs into New Jersey. By the way, if you look it up you will notice that a ball hit 450 feet over the fence counts the same as one that travels 325 feet over the fence. Also, most home runs in the major leagues land in the first five rows. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You can look it up.”
Today there was bunting to move a runner into scoring position, to go along with good defense and outstanding pitching. Fordham went with, hands down, their best pitcher this year in their second game of the tourney, Sophomore John Stankiewicz, who hails from Cherry Hill N.J. At 6’4” and 222 lbs, he looks like he can throw a ball through an M1 Abrams Tank. Yet after he threw a few fastballs in the bottom of the first inning, the sizable group of professional scouts in attendance all put their radar guns back in their back packs. You could see that this kid couldn’t throw hard enough to raise a flag back at the home office.
What we all did see is why the First Team All-Atlantic 10 pitcher is the Ram’s number one go to guy and a pro prospect. He got the win, against the number one seed Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and he now owns a record of 8-3 for the season. He entered the game with an ERA of 1.20 and allowed just one run on three hits over seven innings while fanning five. The five strikeouts gave Stankiewicz 102 strikeouts in 89.1 innings for the season and according to Fordham media became the fourth Ram to reach the century mark in a season, joining Cory Riordan (2007), Hank Borowy (1939), and Dick Egan (1909).
What it shows us is that good command of all your pitches, curve balls, sliders and fastballs, plus outstanding spin ratio will get you an abundance of ground ball outs and put your team back in the dugout. VCU could not figure him out as he dazzled them with a barrage of breaking balls, using the entire strike zone as he added and subtracted velocity on all his pitches.
Pitching coach guru Billy Connors once told me that the pitcher’s job is to get out of the inning. Stankiewicz did that seven times. He showed that it is not how hard you throw a baseball that makes you a winner but how hard you work to get outs. His mound presence and concentration was excellent as witnessed after he gave up a first inning homer to VCU’s Brett Norwood. One of the best things a scout can see is the pitching prospect he came to watch give up a home run early in the game. Why? Because now the scout can see how he recovers or not from that. We all saw that this kid shook it off, retired the batter and only gave up two more hits over the next six innings.
The major leagues has seen pitchers like this have long productive careers. Guys like Mark Buehrle who had a 16 year career where his average fastball speed was 85mph and current star for the Cubs Kyle Hendricks, who’s fastball averages 87 to 88 mph, are winners. This kid from Cherry Hill showed today that he is the cherry topping on what looks to be a very successful Ram season.