Tigers Pitcher C.J. Nitkowski had come to a forkball in the road. Since September 1997 his self-generated Web site, www.CJBaseball.com, had been among the funkiest and most candid jock addresses on Internet. Now Rivals.com, one of the leading producers of athletes' Web pages, was asking the lefty to join its team—with several thousand dollars and stock options as probable inducements. Would he sign or remain master of his domain name? Nitkowski left it up to a vote of his site's visitors. "Sixty-eight percent voted against Rivals, so I'm remaining independent," he says.
That verdict was as welcome as the news of pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training last week. Nitkowski's approach is refreshingly personal. The site has a gallery of baseball photos, but Nitkowski posts no portraits of himself. Although he was a business major at St. John's, he hawks no personal wares—no C.J. Nitkowski jerseys, caps or key rings may be added to your cart on CJBaseball.com—nor does he accept money for ads, which are posted free for friends, family and business associates. "I never wanted to use this site to put money in my pocket," says Nitkowski, who will earn $950,000 in 2000.
On the site Nitkowski, who'll be 27 on March 9, is equal measures self-deprecating and devilish. His "Quote of the Week," posted on Feb.15, came from a fan who said of Nitkowski and his 11-18 career record, "You pitch like a retarted [sic] cow." In a recent poll in which he asked fans what they thought of the Tigers' acquiring slugging outfielder Juan Gonzalez, he listed among the possible answers, "I wish we traded you." It was the second-most-popular reply.
The imp within Nitkowski inspired him last season to post the correspondence between him and American League president Gene Budig. After Nitkowski, following an umpire's warning, hurled a pitch too close to Indians outfielder Kenny Lofton, Budig wrote to inform him that he'd been suspended for two games and fined $500. Nitkowski posted Budig's letter, plus his response to Budig, which was courteous but unrepentant. Then he posted Budig's follow-up: "In appreciation of the spirit in which you accepted your discipline, I am returning herewith the $500.00 fine. I look forward to meeting you soon."
The site also features Nitkowski's editorials on various baseball matters and his restaurant and golf course reviews for baseball cities. That last feature may suffer this season; Detroit's front office has told players they no longer can tote their clubs on road trips. "I don't understand that," said Nitkowski in an interview last week. "The Braves pitching staff "—acknowledged to be tops—"has the best golfers in the majors."
Nitkowski estimates that he spends about 10 hours a week working on the site. Given that, why did he refuse Rivals.com's offer of help? "Most athlete sites are cookie-cutter style," he answers. "I wanted to give baseball fans an inside look at things from a player's perspective."
Certainly, from one player who has not lost his perspective.