little boy who ever picked up a baseball has dreamed of playing in the major leagues. Very
few ever get there.
Mike Jerzembeck has beaten the odds. Seven years after leaving Queens
Village to pursue a baseball dream, he has returned: "Now pitching for the
Yankees... number 58 Mike Jerzembeck... number 58." With those words a local
kids dreams have been fulfilled.
Jerzembeck was perfect during his big league debut on Saturday, August 8.
He pitched the ninth inning, retiring the heart of the Kansas City Royal order Hal Morris
(.311), Jose Offerman (.309) before striking out long ball threat Dean Palmer (25 home
runs), to end the game.
And try as he did to cap his emotions, the low-key pitcher was still on a
high days later as he reflected on his debut performance.
"It was exciting," he said. "I was a little nervous in the
bullpen. But, once I got to the mound, I felt pretty good. I felt relaxed. I felt
confident. I said to myself, this is something that youve been waiting for and
dreaming about a long time. I was out there and taking it all in. I just wanted to
have a good inning, and I did."
Before having good innings he had to develop good pitches. And years ago,
on quiet ball fields and courtyards in Queens, Mike Jerzembeck started practicing. His
first coach was his dad, retired NYPD officer Walter Jerzembeck. "I played ball with
him since he could walk," he joked, "But, seriously, I didnt push it on
him. I could see that he liked it."
Mike augmented his home training with regular stick ball games in a
Lutheran church playground nearby and at PS 188. And like all local kids he rooted for the
"In elementary school I was a Yankee fan," Jerzembeck said.
"But then I got to high school...the Mets were the best team in town. I was more of a
Met fan, but I rooted for the Yankees also."
At age 10, Mike wore his first uniform in the Hollis/Bellaire little
league. He spent his summers, starting at age 13, playing for the Bayside Yankees junior
team under coach Ron Seltzer, before progressing to their senior team three years later
where he was coached by Marc Caseta. He also played varsity baseball at Archbishop Molloy
HS under baseball coach Jack Curran, before graduating with a full scholarship to Georgia
He attended Georgia Tech for a year but dissatisfied with being deployed
as a closer, he transferred to the University of North Carolina. After a year he was
drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1993 free agent draft.
While other great prospects reach their peaks and fade away Jerzembeck
continued honing his skills, making the best out of what he had. "I didnt have
an easy road. I was never the best player on any team that I played on," he said.
"I was always the guy who had a lot of ability and a lot of people seen that I had a
great arm, but I really didnt put it together until my second year of college.... I
was a guy that you could say developed a little later than most."
In 1993, his first full season in pro baseball, Jerzembeck had an eight
win, four loss record and a 2.68 earned run average in 14 starts with the Oneonta Yankees
in the New York Penn League. He was dominating, averaging almost one strike out per
inning, while holding opponents to a .239 batting average. He finished the season by
pitching in the South Atlantic League World Series for the Greensboro Bats.
In 1994, Jerzembeck moved up to the Class-A Tampa Yankees, in the Florida
State League. In 16 starts for Tampa he was 4-3 with a 3.15 ERA, and he again held batters
to a .239 average. He was considered one of the Yankees top pitching prospects, but
suddenly his fortunes changed.
"From spring training on, I began to feel that something wasnt
right in my elbow, my velocity went way down. I was never in a lot of pain but, it was
like I lost my ability." Jerzembeck said.
Doctors could find nothing wrong with his right arm, and two stints on the
disabled list and two months on the sidelines didnt help. By seasons end his
right elbow continued to baffle team doctors, and the prescription was rest. But,
Jerzembecks right elbow didnt respond. The rest almost became permanent.
"I pretty much went to the Yankees and said, Listen something
has to be done. Or my career is going nowhere fast," he explained. Doctors then
discovered nerve damage. After surgery, his velocity returned, but he made just two relief
appearances the entire 1995 season. The dream of a major league career suffered a two year
In 1996, Jerzembeck made up for lost time. After starting the season in
Tampa, he moved to the double-A level Norwich Navigators, before moving to the Columbus
Clippers, the Yankee triple-A affiliate. Jerzembeck performed well with a combined record
of 7-8 with a respectable 3.79 ERA.
He spent six weeks at the start of the 1997 season at Norwich, before
moving to Columbus where he had his finest year as a pro, finishing seventh in the
International league in ERA, (3.59) and fifth among league starters in strikeouts per nine
innings pitched (8.15). And this year, in Spring training, he was prepared to compete for
a spot on the Yankees roster when he was struck in the right elbow by an errant throw by
catcher Jorge Posada.
"It was discouraging.... It eliminated any chance that I had
probably." Jerzembeck said. "But, on the bright side, it could have been worse.
It was just a bruised elbow."
Instead of going north with the Yankees, he went northwest to Columbus.
Before being called up, Jerzembeck had a 3-7 record with a 4.79 ERA in 21 games, for a
weak Columbus Clippers team.
While fate has seemed to work against him in the past, Jerzembeck said
that being called up now, and being a part of a Yankee team that is poised to set all-time
win records, is almost too much to believe.
"Its incredible to know that you can be a part of something
special," Jerzembeck said. "If I can be a part of this and help in any way, even
if its a very small part. Im here to do what ever they want me to do."
Now back in bright lights of New York City, hes stayed far away from
the spotlight, and for good reason. Three weeks ago his wife Alison gave birth to their
son, named Satchel, after legendary Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige.
Unlike Yankee heartthrob Derek Jeter, Mike Jerzembeck has yet to be mobbed
by hordes of screaming fans on the streets of Queens. But when he walked into Yankee
Stadium for the first time he noticed something different. "Theyre fans out
behind the gates and everything, it was crazy... It was awesome."
Still, he said, he realizes that his role on the team is limited. "I
dont think that their plans are for me to stay very long, but it depends on what
they need. Im just here to help."
But hes hopeful that hell remain on the playoff roster.
"Thats out of my control. All I can do is go out and pitch as well as I can,
and let them make the decisions."
Still, after working so hard to get to the big leagues, Queens Village
native Mike Jerzembeck, isnt complaining.
"I really didnt think it would happen," he said sitting in
the Yankee dugout, "To actually make it to the big leagues with the team that I grew
up watching is something special."