This week I did an interview with Rangers relief pitcher CJ Wilson.
1. Who are the three toughest hitters you’ve faced and why?
Little guys like Chone Figgins and Ichiro used to give me a headache, but my favorite 'tough hitters' to face now are Vlad Guerrero and Derek Jeter. They're very aggressive and can hit the ball to any part of the field.
2. Who are your three favorite teammates since you joined the Rangers organization and why?
Kameron Loe, Mark DeRosa, and Chris Young. Since DeRo and C.Y. are gone - I'd say Aki and Josh Rupe.
3. What did you think your role would be for the team you were drafted by heading into the 2001 draft (starting pitcher, relief pitcher, or hitter)?
I was drafted as a starting pitcher, although some teams wanted me to be a hitter in later rounds of the draft. The Rangers picked me before other teams, so they gave me some good money and said, ‘We want to see you in the starting rotation for us in a few years’.
4. What was your first thought when you found out you were going to need Tommy John surgery in 2003?
I was relieved actually. It was an excruciating pain every day just to play catch. I threw for almost a month with no ligament and it was terrible. Once I found out that's what it was, I knew I'd come back stronger just like John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, and some other guys have.
5. What was the recovery process for your Tommy John surgery like?
The worst part is just not being able to play baseball for so long. ObviouslyI really enjoy competing and being on the field, and you have to get somenew hobbies to deal with all the extra energy you're not used to having. I spent a lot of time working out, and getting my body stronger and moreflexible so that it would handle throwing harder when I came back.
6. During your first major league season in 2005, why do you think you were so much more successful as a reliever (2.73 ERA in 18 games) than as a starter (12.05 ERA in 6 games)?
That summer I wasn't ready to be a starter. My pitch count and stamina were so low I really had no chance to succeed. It was a great experience though, and I learned a lot of things not to do. I really enjoy relief pitching – it's a lot more adrenaline,more my natural style.
7. What is the best thing about being a major league ballplayer and why?
The best things are being able to play every day, and facing guys like Jeter who I know will end up in the hall of fame one day. It's the ultimate challenge.
8. What is the biggest adjustment you had to make when you started facing major-league hitting?
The best hitters on the team in AA and AAA are about as good as some of the hitters in the majors, so you just have to remember that nobody hits .400, not even Albert Pujols. I do the same things I've always done – I just have to do it more often.
9. What was it like to be called up to the Rangers in June 2005 in Florida?
I was really surprised because I knew I wasn't ready physically. I had only been pitching for about 8 weeks or so after missing 20 months. But I was very excited because it was my dream since I was about 8 years old.
10. What’s it like to room with Kameron Loe? Do you ever have to feed his snake?
He's a great guy, and we've grown to be like brothers. We laugh at the same movies and hang out all the time. We have a lot of fun together and it's good for both of us. He's the funny one and I'm the responsible one I guess. I've fed the snake a few times, the hardest part is just going to buy the rat. You feel bad feeding a live animal to another live animal. It's usually over really quick.
11. How did it feel to make it all the way to double-AA during your first full pro season?
My main goal when I got drafted was to get to the big leagues as fast as possible, and I told myself I'd buy a Porsche 911 if I got to AA n my first full season as an incentive. I wasn't really surprised, because I worked so hard and it meant more to me than anything to learn as fast as possible. The low minors are very hard to understand until you live through it, but you don't want to spend a lot of time thereif possible. So instead of 'enjoying' myself with the guys, I just sat at home and thought of ways to get better.
12. What is your best pitch and how was it developed?
My best pitch is my fastball. I guess the key ingredient is having a lot of confidencewhen I throw it. I've worked for over 15 years to try and build arm strength, smooth out my mechanics, and gain velocity. When I was 16 I threw about 75 mph and now I can throw 95. I went to Alaska in 2000 as a closer and a centerfielder. I worked out really hard and read a lot of pitching books. Before the summer I topped out at 87 mph and after I could hit 91. I gained about 10 lbs of muscle in my shoulders and back and that's probably the biggest reason. After Tommy John surgery my elbow was stronger than ever and my velocity went up again, but this time it was probably because of better use of my mechanics.
13. What do you think your long-term role with the team will be and why?
Eventually I will either be a starting pitcher or the closer. Some of the coaches think I should do one or the other, but I think being the closer is a great job.
14. What was the key to your success in the second half of 2006?
I had some nagging tendonitis when I got sent down to Oklahoma City in June, and when it healed I was concerned more with my location for my pitches. When I got sent back up, I stopped walking people and my ERA went down a lot. Walks really hurt relievers because the coach usually pulls you out of the game when you walk guys, so they're on base and the next guy doesn't always strike out the first hitter. Usually if you walk a hitter as a relief pitcher, they score.
15. What’s been the best game so far of your professional career andwhy?
I had some really good games in the minors, but I would say in the majors, my first save against the Twins, or my first win against the White Sox in 2005 were really awesome. For the save, Kameron and I combined to shut out the Twins on only 6 hits I think. The win against the White Sox was great because it was about 5 days later, and I was really sick that day. I pitched 5 innings and only gave up one run. It was my first win since June or July of 2003 - that's a really long time.
16. What sports did you play growing up and which were you best at?
I played soccer, basketball, golf, and I also swam and surfed. I was a better golfer than the rest, but I wish I would have played more soccer. I still play soccer with my friends back in California when I go home. I really hope Tom Hicks decides to buy the Liverpool team so I can go to England and watch them play next off-season.
17. What was your favorite team growing up?
My favorite sports team was the L.A. Lakers, but I really liked baseball and was able to watch a lot of it with both the Dodgers and Angels always on TV.
18. What are you working on in the off-season?
Baseball wise, I've been working on a new windup, and also getting my change-up and curveball back to where they were before 2005. Having more weapons as a pitcher just means I can be even better. This off-season I am working on being a more complete part of the organization by doing as many media events and charity projects as I can. The better player you are, the more you can help people, and also the more demand there is for your time. Being able to juggle all the phases of thatis very difficult for most players.
19. The Rangers website lists one of your hobbies as traveling. Where do you like to travel?
I like to go to the beach, so San Diego, Newport Beach, and Mexico rank really high. After 2005 I went to Japan and China. Tokyo is a great city. This off-season I am going to Europe, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and maybe England if Mr. Hicks buys Liverpool.
20. How much time do you spend on the computer in an average day? Whatare your favorite sites?
During the off-season I probably spend three or four hours a day online. I maintain my myspace fan site (www.myspace.com/blueglove36) as well as post on message boards like the Newberg report and lonestarball. I try to see what's going on in the world with news sites, and stay in touch with my friends with email. I also read a lot about cars, movies, and video games, and my friends forward me funny links. So...autotrader.com, rennlist.com, bestbuy.com, moviefone.com, imdb.com, ebaumsworld.com, and youtube.com. And of course I search Google a few times a day.
I would like to thank CJ for giving me so much of his time to do this interview. I’ve gotten to talk to CJ a lot at different Rangers events and he is always very friendly and willing to spend time with fans.
Come back next week for an analysis of the AL Central off-season.