(PK Park - Eugene, OR) - There is no doubt to anyone remotely close to the Vancouver Canadians clubhouse that big Jim Czajkowski has a presence. It's not loud or overbearing, but the 6'4" inch former Major League pitcher has a way about him that commands respect. Some call his style of leadership "by example" while others simply refer to it as being a "silent leader." Some in his role have a tendency to yell and play the role of 'bad cop' while 'Cy' as he's known by those close to him seems to understand that the key to his success has always been treating his players like men and asking for the same in return.
Simply put, it's good to have 'Cy' back in Vancouver.
Coming off of a dismal season on the mound, the Vancouver Canadians were desperately looking for leadership and a renewed sense of commitment to each and every pitch. That has come back in spades as Czajkowski (pronounced Sigh-Cow-Ski) almost comes across as a second manager alongside actual manager Rich Miller who has to be thrilled having someone of Czajkowski's pedigree and track record. For those who remember, it was Miller, Czajkowski and hitting coach Dave Pano that helped the Canadians guide the murky waters of the post-season in 2011 coming out on top for Vancouver's first-ever Northwest League franchise.
That year featured names like Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard - but it also had a number of pitchers like Bryan Longpre and Drew Permison who needed a little extra push and some guidance to get their games to where they needed to be. Both Longpre and Permison ended up having great seasons and both credit Czajkowski directly for their emergence.
That's what Czajkowski seems to do best, work with average arms and get the most out of them by challenging each individual both mentally and physically.
That's how he pitched both in college and professionally, and how he believes today's pitcher can still thrive.
Czajkowski broke into the Majors in the strike-shortened 1994 season playing briefly with the Colorado Rockies. His career is largely made up of statistics from his 12 seasons in the Minor Leagues bouncing primarily between Double and Triple-A.
He pitched with the Durham Bulls in 1988, right around the time that Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were bringing light to the life of Minor League Baseball in the smash hit Bull Durham. Czajkowski pitched for 14 different Minor League teams over his 12 years and has been on the bus more than the law should allow -- but it was all part of what makes him so sought after today. That experience translates and is a key reason that players respect him the way they do.
He's been there. He's riden the same buses, understands the pain of being away from home for long stretches at a time and doesn't brow beat his pitchers. Instead of the militant style that some coaches see as effective, Cy talks to these young men as just that - young men - and sometimes that is the most effective mode of communication.
Players usually know what they've done wrong before the coach even walks up to them. Czajkowski's strength is letting his pitchers discover the process of development and simply ensures they have a second opinion if it's needed. Call it giving his pitchers the rope they need to become better players. This is what his former pitchers say, that the rope was always just enough to stay on track while also short enough that he could bring them in at any time.
You can already see the difference from last season when it felt off for the Canadians and the compete level was low. Czajkowski brings a direction, intensity and blends it with calm, things that in the Minors are key. Pitchers this season have already responded with one of the best ERA's in the Northwest League.
Czajkowski won't look for credit but it's glaringly noticeable -- his presence and demand for excellence is the gas that our players are using to improve. The Canadians are off and running this season and fans will surely see a difference on the field this summer. When it comes to the pitching, just know amidst the chaos of the season is a big, burly pitching coach that is leading by example and expects the same from his arms, call it - a much needed step in the right direction.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.