Did you know that the Orioles have a knuckleball pitcher in their minor league camp this spring?
Zach Staniewicz is a 26-year-old self described “baseball junkie” who is pursuing his lifelong dream of pitching in the big leagues. Staniewicz has pitched in pro baseball at the Independent League level, but worked with 300 game winner — and fellow knuckleballer — Phil Niekro in 2011 to refine his craft and make his chances of pitching in the bigs even better.
“He had a lot of good things to say,” Staniewicz told Derik Vanderford of the Union Daily Times in January. “He told me to keep working on the knuckle ball, so I committed myself to the pitch. He told me to eat, sleep and breathe the knuckle ball. He said it can’t be a secondary pitch; it’s gotta be all you throw. I took that advice.”
His journey to Sarasota is a pretty amazing story. Staniewicz joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 2011, was connected with Niekro through a friend, then after working with the Hall of Famer, he sent a resume to the U.S. Military All-Star Team and was asked to join.
He played for the Military All-Stars for two weeks and his coach, Terry Allvord, called his pal Dan Duquette to setup a tryout for Staniewicz.
Staniewicz of course agreed and went to Camden Yards with the intention of throwing in the bullpen for Duquette before an Orioles game.
After eating lunch inside the stadium, Staniewicz went to the bus and asked his coach if he should get his gloves and cleats, but his coach said, “No, he’s already agreed to sign you.”
“Someone asked me, ‘What just happened?’” Staniewicz said. “I was like, ‘I’m not sure, but I think I just got signed by the Orioles!’”
Staniewicz then met with Duquette, who realized he had already worked with Niekro. Duquette gave him a verbal agreement during the summer and said he wanted to hire Niekro to work with him during spring training.
Staniewicz signed a minor league deal with the Orioles and the Birds hired Niekro to come to Sarasota and continue to work with the knuckleballer.
I haven’t been able to find much on how his spring has gone with the O’s, but Matt Eddy of Baseball America brings up a great point about Staniewicz’s fit with the Orioles.
In any other organization, Staniewicz would seem to be the longest of long shots, but Baltimore did resuscitate the careers of Miguel Gonzalez and Lew Ford last year.
I’m definitely pulling for the guy. It’s great to see the Orioles find talent where no one else is looking. Plus, I’m always a fan of a Zach who spells his name with an “h” instead of a “k”.