Jannis' return to Crushers a boost to the pitching staff
Mickey Jannis was just getting ready to eat a sandwich before the game, when he was interrupted by a reporter looking to do a feature piece on him and his return to the Crushers. Without complaint or hesitation, he politely agreed and walked outside to chat.
It was ironic that the Crushers’ opponent that day was the Normal CornBelters. It was a nice, normal day, a perfect time to interview the Crushers most normal pitcher.
“He’s not as odd as most pitchers,” Jannis’ close friend and the Crushers’ clubhouse manager Ryan Maxwell said. “He’s a pretty intelligent dude, and that’s probably why I hang out with him so much. He’s so normal. He’s just a good guy.”
Jannis doesn’t have any quirky warm-up routine; he didn’t pick out his own walk out song, saying instead “just play something upbeat.” He doesn’t have any crazy story to tell, and, most importantly, he’s incredibly modest in describing himself.
“I would say I’m a pretty laid back person,” he said. “Always trying to have fun, joking around with people in the clubhouse, but I’m very easy to get along with, and…”
Jannis trailed off with that last conjunction. He doesn’t give off a vibe that he likes to brag or talk about himself all that much. He doesn’t need to be the center of attention or the life of the party.
“He’s like the guy you want your daughter to date,” Maxwell said. He also mentioned that Jannis is always the designated driver when the group goes out.
His manager, Jeff Isom, praised him for his attitude, even if the accolades were fairly plain.
“Very hard worker, goes out there, goes about his business, doesn’t say a lot of things but focuses on what he needs to get down. He comes in everyday with the mindset that he’s gonna get his work in and try to make himself better.”
Normal praise for a normal guy who just wants to sit back and have a good time. The thing that makes all this normalcy so bizarre is that Jannis throws baseball’s most eccentric pitch: the knuckleball.
Jannis grew up in Sparks, Nevada, just East of Reno. He attended three colleges in the California area, before being drafted out of Cal State Bakersfield by the Tampa Bay Rays. When he started playing for Bakersfield, they were a first year program, as the school was making the leap to Division I from Division II, and needed another big time sport. There was a big, dirt field out in the middle of the parking lot, which would become the school’s baseball field. It was on that field that Jannis threw out the first pitch in school history.
“It was a pretty cool experience there,” Jannis said. “You definitely weren’t going there for the facilities, but I’ve got nothing bad to say about them. I had a lot of fun there.”
Jannis was the school’s ace for two seasons before being selected in the 44th round of the 2010 draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, an organization that is known for finding and developing good pitchers.
“I was definitely excited when I got drafted by them, especially because [they’re known for recognizing, good, young pitching,]” he said.
Jannis worked his way to high-A ball, pitching for the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State league in 2011. After that season he was released by the organization. Despite being cut, Jannis will always be happy to have had the opportunity to play affiliated ball with the Rays organization.
“I had a great experience with them. There a good organization to be in, especially as a young guy. They develop you really well. They take care of you very well. I’ve got nothing bad to say about that organization, that’s for sure.”
It didn’t take long for him to get back on his feet, as he signed with the Crushers for the 2012 season. Since then, he has been working towards another shot at affiliated ball, all the while working on perfecting the knuckleball.
Few have mastered it, but Jannis is trying to make a career with it, and he certainly looks up to those in the Major Leagues who have had success with it: RA Dickey and Tim Wakefield, for example.
“I definitely try to watch them every chance I can,” he said. “See their highlights, and listen to them talk. Just watch their game and how they throw it and use it.”
It’s a pitch Jannis says he has fooled around with ever since he was kid, on the off chance that it might help him further along in his baseball career, but he can’t remember the very first time he ever threw it. After he’d finish playing catch or practicing, he’d go off to the side and throw a few to anyone who would catch for him. Most recently, he was working with former Chicago White Sox knuckleballer, Charlie Hough, whom he credits for teaching him how to more effectively use the pitch.
“He’s helped me out a lot. He showed me how to actually throw it. I threw it before, but I just kinda threw it as hard as I could near the plate. It was good, but he told me ‘this is how you throw it and get it more consistent.’”
As he continues to improve, Jannis hopes to take the next step in his professional career, with the ultimate goal of making it to the Major Leagues, just like any other player in the Frontier League. That path led the Crushers “regular guy” to be part of one of baseball’s strangest transactions, when he was traded to the Bridgeport Bluefish, of the Atlantic League, for himself.
Because the Atlantic League is an older league than the Frontier League and is home to some former Major Leaguers, the move was a step up for Jannis and his career. He was invited to take part in spring training with the team, but if they wanted him they would have to make a deal with the Crushers.
“I told him, yeah that’s fine,” Isom said. “If nothing works out, at least you’ll have a little bit of a spring training, your arms in shape, but if they want you they’re gonna have to trade for you.”
He did not make the team out of spring training, but after the Bluefish experienced a few problems with their pitching staff, they called Isom, who agreed to trade Jannis for a player to be named later. He ended up being that player to be named later when things did not work out in Bridgeport. Isom was glad to have him back, and since returning Jannis has led the revival of the Crushers bullpen.
“I wish we had Mickey Jannis from the start of the season. He’s come in and done a nice job and solidified the bullpen. Thank goodness we got Mickey.” Isom said.
Jannis looks to be a contributor for this staff all season long, but eventually would like to do so as a starting pitcher, which Isom can see him doing. In the meantime, between his dominance on the mound and his nice guy, “I don’t have a bad thing to say about anybody” attitude, it’s hard to say something bad about the Crushers normal, yet unconventional, pitcher.