Joel Zumaya capped a successful season by picking up the Double-A Starting Pitcher of the Year Award, and hip-hop artist Nate Dogg played a big part in it.
One of Nate Dogg's biggest hits is a track called "Nobody Does It Better," a song that struck a chord with the Erie SeaWolves right-hander.
In the song, rappers Nate Dogg and Warren G deem themselves the best in their business, a belief also shared by Zumaya, who entered each game to this song and used that mind-set throughout the season.
"I'm a guy that when I'm out on the mound, nobody is going to do any better than me," Zumaya said. "I want to go out there and do the best that I can so no one can be at that level."
The song also runs parallel to a few other things in Zumaya's career beyond a better-than-you outlook on the mound. One verse goes, "Strike one/Me and Nate Dogg is a match. Strike two/Leave 'em standing in their tracks. Strike three ..."
Zumaya possesses a dominating fastball-curveball-change-up combination that can freeze any batter at any time. He also may have found a good match of his own in fellow fireballer Justin Verlander.
The two spent little time together during the first part of the season while Verlander was in the Florida State League. But once the Tigers' 2004 first-round draft pick made it to Erie, Penn., the two pitchers realized they had a rare opportunity to do something great.
"One night we went out, sat down and said, 'Hey man, you know we can be the best pitchers in the Eastern League,'" the Tigers' 2002 11th-round pick recalled. "'Let's just see what we can do together.' It was me, him and Humberto Sanchez, so I think if we stayed together, we would have taken the Eastern League Championship."
Such a statement is not hard to imagine, particularly considering Zumaya's numbers. In 18 starts, the San Diego native went 8-3 with a 2.77 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 107 1/3 innings. He held opposing batters to a .187 average.
Once the chilly Great Lakes' spring became summer, Zumaya heated up and reduced his ERA to 0.96 while trimming his walks-per-nine innings from 5.6 to 2.7 over his last seven starts.
His best performance came May 26 against the Akron Aeros when he struck out 14 over 7 2/3 hitless innings, leaving only because his pitch count was over 130. Two starts later, Zumaya outdid himself by striking out 15 against the Harrisburg Senators.
After the kind of success he enjoyed in 2005, he is itching to reach the Major Leagues. And the possibilities in Motown only serve to whet his appetite.
"It's exciting because if me, Verlander, Sanchy and (Jeremy) Bonderman are there, that's a big power four starting rotation," Zumaya said. "I think we're going to be really good if things turn out the way they should."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.