By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It might be the first time that the Bird’s Nest at Bowen Field has had a shirt for sale with the number and name of a current player on the back.
Welcome to Wasze’s world.
“I think it is just really cool that the town cares about you and it is good playing in front of people that you know,” Tazewell native and Bluefield Blue Jays pitcher Zak Wasilewski said. “I am just trying to make everybody proud here, that is what I am trying to do.”
He is doing just fine.
“It is a great time,” said the 20-year-old Wasilewski, who wears No. 13, much like he did at Tazewell. “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Wasilewski will make his fourth appearance of the Appalachian League season tonight when the Blue Jays host the Johnson City Cardinals. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.
It will be his third appearance at Bowen Field in front of an abundance of Tazewell supporters, many of whom will be dressed in green. After a nerve-filled debut for the Blue Jays on June 21 which resulted in a loss to Greeneville, Wasilewski is starting to approach each opportunity much like he did at extended spring training in Florida before arriving in Bluefield.
“It took a lot of pressure of me,” said Wasilewski, of getting through his initial outing in front of the home crowd. “I am just doing what I did in extended more so than what I did in my first time out.
“I just relaxed and let myself do the rest...I enjoy it, I am glad everybody comes out and watches us, it makes you feel real good.”
Wasilewski, who was a 14th round draft choice by Toronto in 2012, lost his debut for the Blue Jays, but has won his last two appearances and will enter tonight’s outing with a 2-1 record and a 4.63 ERA.
“I have been staying focused with what I have been doing in the pen, just working on a lot of stuff with my pitching coach,” Wasilewski said. “I think I will get better each time I go out.”
So far so good.
Wasilewski worked five innings at Danville last Monday, allowing three hits and no runs, striking out three and walking none. That followed a relief appearance on June 26, in which he also earned the win against Burlington.
He has allowed 12 hits in 11 2/3 innings, while striking out seven and walking six.
Unlike his tenure at Tazewell where Wasilewski could play other positions when not on the mound, the 6-foot-1 southpaw must wait for his opportunities to come. It has been a week since he last pitched, but he has learned to use that time to his advantage.
“You get to think about it when you have a good start, you will learn from that and when you have a bad one you have got time too,” Wasilewski said. “It really helps you to learn about what you really need to work on.”
Bluefield enters tonight’s game with Johnson City in first place in the Appalachian League’s East Division, and much of that success comes from a pitching staff that has compiled an impressive 3.28 team ERA.
“I am not the only one, we have a lot of good prospects on this team, a lot of guys and I am learning stuff over the last year that has really helped me out a lot,” he said. “There is always going to be guys that are going to be better than you and that is why when you go out you just have to do the best you can do and at the end of the day that is all you can do.”
There was a time when Wasilewski was known as more than just a strong-armed pitcher. He also set records at Tazewell with his bat, but he has learned to deal with leaving the hitting to someone else.
“I miss hitting a lot, that is for sure,” he said, with a laugh, “but they like me as a pitcher so that is what I have got to do.”
Wasilewski, who passed on a scholarship to the University of South Carolina to play professional baseball, is now focused on his craft, which is related to his powerful left arm.
“I am learning how to really pitch,” said the 6-foot-1 Wasilewski, who has shown significant improvement from an 0-3 record and a 7.89 ERA in 10 appearances last summer in the Gulf Coast League. “I really never threw a whole lot in high school, it is really learning how to pitch and it’s not how hard you throw because everybody throws hard here.
“It is just learning how to change speeds on hitters and picking up little things.”
Wasilewski had, surprisingly, never pitched at Bowen Field before this season. His Bulldogs had played in the Coppinger Invitational in Bluefield, but he was usually only on the mound in opening round games at Tazewell.
“Always where we would play the first game down there in Tazewell, I would throw that one and we would never really get to play here,” he said.
Even though Wasilewski is just a short drive from home, he enjoys staying with the rest of the Blue Jays in the MountainView Conference Center on Cumberland Road.
“I stay in the hotel with everyone else,” he said. “There is a lot of team bonding and stuff.”
Wasilewski returns to the mound tonight. There will, no doubt, be green-clad Tazewell fans in attendance, and possibly even a few folks wearing T-shirts with a “13” and “Wasilewski” stitched on the back.
He will do his best to make those folks proud. In reality, he already has.
“Every time I go out I want to do good,” he said. “I want to show them I am here for a reason.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com