Brandon Polizzi got on base at a .375 clip during the month of August.
The latest guest on C’s Chat is 2017-2018 Vancouver Canadians utility man Brandon Polizzi.
The former Cal State Dominguez Hills product made headlines in the 2018 Northwest League season finale by playing all nine positions for the C’s in Spokane September 3. The Neptune, New Jersey native threw just one pitch but it induced a broken-bat pop up to short from Indians catcher Scott Kapers to end the inning. That was all Polizzi needed to earn a hold in his first professional outing on the mound. It turns out it will not be his last time on the hill as he is making the conversion from position player to pitcher.
Blue Jays director of player development Gil Kim approached Polizzi about making the switch on the recommendation of C’s pitching coach Jim Czajkowski.
“Gil Kim called me in November. Good guy, asked me how my family was doing before anything. Really good guy. He said, ‘Hey, you know (according to) Jim Czajkowski, I heard you had a pretty good knuckleball.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, you know.’ ‘Well, what do you think about converting to a pitcher?’ I said, ‘Let me think about it. Give me a day or two.’
So I called around and I called a couple of friends and they were like ‘Yeah, the potential has always been there for you to pitch. You were just too valuable on the outfield and in the infield and on the bases to have you pitch but they want you to pitch, go ahead and pitch.’ It’s what they feel best that I can do to help the Blue Jays win so that’s what I’m willing to do.”
Before his outing in Spokane last year, it had been a while since Polizzi last pitched.
“I have back in high school but I mean other than that, I really have no experience. All I know is how to throw a knuckleball and a fastball and a slider.”
I’m probably going to be mostly knuckleball. I think they’re going to try to develop me to be the next knuckleballer. How Tim Wakefield was, how R.A. Dickey was so we’ll see.
It’s different but I’m open to it. It’s a new challenge to me and like I said, I have very little pitching experience. When I go back to Florida, it’ll be interesting to see what I can do against batters. I’m just going to be open to learning (about) pitching.”
Throwing the knuckler is something that comes naturally to Polizzi.
“Honestly, I’ve thrown it all my life. It was just something I used to watch. I was a big fan of Tim Wakefield. I’m still a big fan of him. I was watching him pitch and was like, ‘Oh man, that’s kind of cool watching the ball just with no spin and it just dances. I just kept on watching and watching him. When I’m playing catch early, I’ll throw like maybe four of five of them and I just taught myself how to throw a knuckleball basically.”
One thing Polizzi is appreciative of is the support he has received from Blue Jays pitching coordinator Jeff Ware and player development coordinator David Aardsma.
“Jeff Ware and David Aardsma have been more than helpful in helping me this off-season on pitching. We’d talk here and there. They said, ‘We were going to get you a pitching coach.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, cool!’ So about two months later, they go ‘We got you a pitching coach!’ I was like, ‘Alright, who is it?’ I’m thinking like who of all the pitching coaches in the Blue Jays organization are. They go, ‘We got you Tim Wakefield!’ I’m going, ‘Okay, cool!’
Me and Tim Wakefield had a phone call and talked about pitching. He goes, ‘Who taught you how to pitch?’ ‘Nobody.’ ‘Honestly, there’s just two of three things you just got to fix and you’re solid. Who taught you how to threw the knuckleball?’ ‘I taught myself and just watching guys like you.’ And he goes, ‘Wow! That’s pretty cool! I’ve never heard of that before, a guy teaching himself to throw the knuckleball.'”
Wakefield gave Polizzi one key piece of advice.
“I sent him some video and he was like, ‘You know what? His thing was imagine a hallway when you’re pitching. Imagine a hallway and you don’t want to touch the walls when you’re throwing. Everything needs to be in a straight line when you throw the knuckleball and all that.
That was just one tip that he gave me but he gave me a lot more information that I didn’t even know about on pitching. I think that was the biggest tip for me, the biggest piece of advice.
I can’t be more than grateful for the Blue Jays getting a hold of him. This is something that I don’t know that if they do for other guys. To call Tim Wakefield, basically one of the best knuckleballers to ever play baseball, that’s pretty cool, I think.”
A change of positions also meant a change in the off-season routine for Polizzi.
“I kind of toned the training back a little bit. When I came home, I took the whole month of September off, did some hunting, did some fishing, got to hang out with the family. October, I said, ‘Alright, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this.’ Put on some weight, get in the weight room and just go at it again. I was in there five or six times a week running.
They called me in November and they said, ‘Hey you know. What do you think about pitching?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you know. Why not?’ I just said, ‘I don’t want to bring my position body back in to pitch.’ So I’ve been doing three times a week lifting and running and then throwing bullpens. Other than that, I’ve just been enjoying my time home. Spending my time with the family and getting some hunting and some fishing in because I sure do miss it during the season.”
As for where Polizzi is going to pitch in 2019, that remains up in the air.
“I don’t know at this point. Whatever the Blue Jays have set for me, whatever team they’re going to put me on or whatever’s there or their road for me for success is, I have no doubt that they’ll do a good job and just go where I need to go and develop.”
Brandon Polizzi racked up 25 stolen bases in 27 tries during his two-year stay in Vancouver.
The 2018 season had its ups and downs for Polizzi but it ended on a good note with the aforementioned nine-position tour of the field. He only found out just before the game that he would be in for a busy night.
“Honestly, I didn’t know anything about it. I just had a feeling that I was going to pitch. Jim Czajkowski, our pitching coach. great guy, one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. Just really humble and he knows the game, not just from the pitching standpoint but from the batting standpoint. I had a feeling I was going to pitch because I showed him the knuckleball two or three times and he was like, ‘Oh yeah. That’s pretty good you know.’
It was literally right before the game. Our manager came out and said, ‘Hey, you ready?’ ‘Yeah, you know, I’m always ready.’ ‘Okay, make sure you have all your gloves ready’.
So I went to second, went to short, went to third, left, and as soon as I hit center and right, I’m going ‘Okay, I have a feeling that I’m playing all nine positions this game.’
Just like his last time on the mound before pro ball, Polizzi had not donned the tools of ignorance since his days at Bellflower High School in his California hometown.
“I actually caught a little bit in high school. Everyone was like, ‘Oh no, you can’t stick a ball. You never caught before.’ We had Connor Law—one of our hardest throwing guys on the team—I caught one. (Laughs) I stuck it and the whole dugout went wild. That whole experience was an absolutely fun moment.”
Polizzi had to borrow his gear from teammate Brett Wright.
“He was just so ecstatic. He was so pumped for me that I was catching. He was like, ‘Dude, you can use my gear. You can use this glove.’ I was like, ‘Alright, cool. I appreciate it.’ So it was pretty cool.”
Another thing that stood out to Polizzi about that game was the support of the fans at Avista Stadium.
“I had a positive interaction with all the fans. Even the Spokane fans, they thought it was so cool to see somebody play all nine positions. Somebody was telling me that it’s never been done before in one game that somebody played at all nine positions. I guess I’m the first person to play all nine positions in one game.
I had some family there. They were going, ‘We had no idea that you were going to play all nine positions.’ They looked up all these stats on it on who has ever played all nine positions. They said they couldn’t find anything so it was nice to get a first to do something.”
Polizzi expanded on who his personal cheering section was.
“Really, really close friends of mine that I grew up with playing scout ball with the Cleveland Indians. They’re basically family to me. They came down, they came to see me. Always calling and texting me, they’re really close, close friends but they’re family to me.”
The memorable last game helped lessen the disappointment for Polizzi after the C’s were eliminated from playoff contention the game before.
“We were in first place for like the last week. It’s baseball, you know. You could be riding high one day going through teams and the next day, you’re going ‘What happened?’ We had just one of those ‘what happened’ kind of situations but you know, it happens. That’s baseball for you.”
The Catch Of 2018
It was a week before that Polizzi played a huge role in keeping the C’s playoff hopes alive with the catch of the season against Boise at Nat Bailey Stadium August 25. He said there was only one other catch he would put above it on his personal highlight reel.
“Honestly, that’s probably my second best catch ever. Probably my first best catch, I was in college and I was playing in center field. I was playing a little shallow. The guy hits a ball straight over my head. This is during the inter-squad. We had a couple of scouts out there and this was my freshman year. The guy hits a ball over my head, I just put my head down and went straight back and just laid out on the warning track. We’re talking full-out layout, straight back. Not to the side, just straight back and I caught the ball.
Our coach comes out and goes. He turns his hat and he goes, ‘That was freakin’ amazing!’ Ever since then, that is my favourite catch out of everything. Throwing somebody out at first was pretty cool too but I mean just seeing the reaction on my coach’s face and just put a smile on their faces was all that I wanted.”
Another memorable diving snag from Polizzi came in the ninth inning of Game 2 in the 2017 North Division final against Spokane to help the C’s advance to the league championship.
“That’s a close tie for second but I have to say the college one will always be number one and then the Boise one and then Spokane.”
Another memorable moment for Polizzi was the design of Mr. August t-shirts in his honour. He wasn’t sure who got the ball rolling on the making of the BP4 tees.
“That I really don’t know about. I just know Jim, our pitching coach. He brought me outside and he was talking to me about hitting, you know, stuff like that. I came in, everybody had the shirts on. I’m like, ‘Oh wow, this is cool!’ I told everybody, ‘Hey, August is going to be my month. Everybody, let’s get ready. August is going to be everybody’s month. We’re going to go to the playoffs and win.’ But unfortunately, that didn’t happen but out of June and July, August was definitely my best month.”
It was a tough start to 2018 for Polizzi but some advice from a former Blue Jays shortstop led to the beginning of his turnaround.
“I talked to Troy Tulowitzki a lot. We’re really close. Every week we would talk hitting. He would just say, ‘Yeah, you know. This looks good, that looks good. I got to spend some time in extended with him. Just writing down notes and mental pinpoints.
It just happened in August, it just clicked. You can have a bad first half and then a great second half. It depends on how you look at it. I think I ended the season on a really good note.”
The C’s finished second in the Northwest League with 122 stolen bases with Polizzi stealing 19 of them in 21 tries. He thrived on Dallas McPherson’s aggressive managing style.
“Dallas is a really good manager. He was like, “Yeah, just don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You think you can steal a base? Steal a base. Don’t be afraid to do something.If you make a mistake, you’re going to make a mistake. It’s going to happen.’ He was really open on letting us steal bases.”
The People’s Champion
The end of August saw Polizzi earn some hardware from the Canadians as he was named the Ossie Chavarria Fan’s Choice award for 2018, something he really appreciated.
“That’s a huge honour. That’s basically all the fans of the Vancouver Canadians saying, ‘We feel like you represented the city of Vancouver the best out of everybody that played baseball.’ That’s a real honour to represent Vancouver saying they voted me the fan’s best player so it’s a real honour to be their best player.”
Two things stand out to Polizzi when he looks back on his time in Vancouver.
“The championship and just being around the fans. The fans are what make Vancouver baseball, baseball. I mean, just being around the fans, they’re so excited to come out and see us and support us and everything. Really, it’s all about the fans and showing them a good time. They’re nothing but more than supportive for us. Just being out there. Great weather and everything. Just great fans, great people. Vancouver will be definitely be one of my favourite places to play ever.”
Polizzi will be celebrating his 23rd birthday on March 16.