Throwing a no-hit season
CARBONDALE Twenty-eight innings of no-hit ball, one earned run, 79 strikeouts, a 0.21 earned-run average.Three Rivers Little Leaguer Johnny Nieslanik’s numbers speak for themselves. The Carbondale Cub, who already stands 5-foot-9, dominated local diamonds like no one in recent memory has during the regular season.And his pitching stats – cited above – only complement his potency in the batter’s box, where Nieslanik hit a blistering .786 (33-for-42) with eight home runs, seven triples, nine doubles and 44 RBIs for his majors-division team. His fastball, clocked between 65 and 67 mph, is equivalent to a high-80s major-league fastball – a Little League’s pitcher’s mound is 46 feet from home plate, whereas the high school/majors distance is 60 feet, 6 inches – and proved untouchable. The youngster, who turned 13 on Tuesday, also boasts a curveball and changeup and is working on a knuckleball.Cubs manager Eric Gross noticed Nieslanik’s season-long no-hitter in mid-season, but refused to speak of it. “I just coach in a little town, but about two-thirds of the way into the season, I noticed this happening,” he said. “I didn’t want to talk about it because of superstition. I tried not to talk about it until it was over, and then it was time to talk about it. I have yet to find anyone who remembers anything like this.” And, according to Gross, no one really has heard of such a thing.”No-hit pitching and perfect games are pretty common in Little League,” he noted, “but a whole season? I know it didn’t happen on any team I played on.”
Nieslanik himself didn’t even really notice, not until late in the season anyway, what he was in the midst of pulling off.”The last couple games I realized that no one had really hit off me,” he began, “and I started thinking about. I set a goal that I didn’t want anyone to hit off me. It happened.” The Cub faced 102 batters during the regular season. His stat ledger included only two real blemishes – 19 walks and two hit batters.Only two put the ball in play between the foul lines, one player laying down a bunt and another knocking a grounder to first. Besides the speed, what makes the right-handed Nieslanik so tough to hit?”Some people say I release the ball funny,” Nieslanik said, demonstrating his three-quarters arm release point. “Some say they have a hard time picking it up.” That didn’t stop of anyone from giving it their all to break up Nieslanik’s no-hit bid.”Some kids really wanted that hit,” Gross recalled. “They started to guess, started swinging while he still had the ball. I thought, odds were, that someone would get a hit eventually. One team bunted almost every time.”Nieslanik took the opposing teams’ desperate antics in stride.”I really didn’t care,” he said.
Gross insists that Nieslanik’s – and his entire team’s – statistics are credible. Kept by a numbers- and baseball-loving team dad, Dave Ritchie, they’re for real. “Every one of them is a real hit, not a Little League hit, as the term goes,” Gross contended. “They hold water.”
What’s on tap for Nieslanik? He’ll more than likely represent Three Rivers in All-Star play next month. “If he’s chosen to All-Stars,” Gross said, playfully not jumping to any conclusions.In Little League District 1 All-Star play, the best players from Three Rivers – which includes teams in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Basalt and Aspen – will square off against the best from charters in Grand Junction, Fruita-Redlands, Gunnison, Montrose, Palisade and the Southwestern Colorado Youth Baseball Little League. After that, he’ll graduate to Three Rivers’ junior division (for 13- and 14-year-olds) and its conventional 90-foot diamond with a pitching distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.He’s also playing Triple Crown baseball – played on fields with dimensions falling between those of the minors/majors and juniors division – through the summer. “It’s a nice transition for them,” Gross said.Nieslanik acknowledged the greater distance may affect his dominance.”Yeah, it might be a little different,” he said. “My pitching will probably slow down a little. It’s gone good. The first couple (Triple Crown) practices I had a tough time adjusting, but I’m getting used to it.”
The competition will improve as Nieslanik moves up the baseball ladder. Of this, he has no doubt. He may or may not continue his dominance.But the youngster will do everything in his power to sustain a Grade-A game. Nieslanik knows he has things to work on, like his control and performance under pressure. “The biggest thing is just calming down when I get frustrated,” he said. “I also need to work on controlling the ball a little bit better.”He’s already made strides in that area, Gross said. “His walks were half that of last year,” the coach noted. Nieslanik’s mother, Jerilyn, doesn’t care if her son improves, just that he takes the diamond with class.She said: “He can have the worst stats in the world as long as he conducts himself well on the field.”
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