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Chasing The Dream: The Steven Wright Story and Interview

Today we feature Steven Wright who looks to someday write his name among the list of another prestigious major league club, the knuckleball club. Over the course of baseball history, many have tried and but few have perfected the craft of the knuckleball.

Steven Wright: Quick Stats

swright8Team: Boston Red Sox

Twitter: @Knucklepuck23

Height: 6′ 1″, Weight: 200 lb. Born: August 30, 1984 in Torrance, California

Drafted:  Cleveland Indians in the 2nd round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft

Favorite Player: Roger Clemens/Ken Griffey Jr.

 

Chasing The Dream: The Steven Wright Story

The 300 win club, the 500 home run club, these are exclusive clubs in which only the best pitchers and hitters are a part of.  Most of these individuals who are in these exclusive clubs are members of the prestigious baseball hall of fame. Today we feature Steven Wright who looks to someday “Wright” his name among the list of another prestigious major league club, the knuckleball club. Over the course of baseball history, many have tried, but few have perfected the craft of the knuckleball. Boston Red Sox prospect Steven Wright hopes that he is next on the list of those who have perfected the pitch. Like most before him, Wrights path to the majors did not start with the knuckler.

In 2003, Wright was finishing up his senior year at Valley View High School in California when he was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 26th round. Deciding he was not quite ready to begin his journey into the professional game, Wright enrolled and began playing baseball at the University of Hawaii. While playing baseball on the island, Wright developed and learned a lot about the rigors of baseball. The Hawaii baseball team had to travel to the mainland in order to play many of its games preparing Wright for long bus trips and life as a minor leaguer. After three successful years playing for the Rainbows, including a junior season in which he recorded an 11-2 record with a 2.30 ERA. Wright was named a second team All-American paving the way for him to be on the radar for many teams in the fast approaching major league draft. The University of Hawaii product did not have to wait long to hear his name called once the 2006 draft got underway. The Cleveland Indians selected Wright with their second round selection. Unfortunately for Wright his professional debut was delayed until the start of the 2007 season due to coming down with a case of mononucleosis.

Wright split his first season of professional baseball between two Indian affiliates. Starting out in Lake County, Wright made 14 starts and posted a 4-7 record and an above average strike out rate of 10.2/9 innings. At the mid-season mark the Indians promoted Wright to their A+ affiliate in the Carolina League. Making an additional 13 starts, Wright struggled at his first taste of stiffer competition. While going 3-2 on the win column, his ERA ballooned to 7.12 and his strike out rate dropped to 7.1 while his walk rate rose to 4.1 over the course of nine innings. Like his first professional season Wright’s sophomore campaign would be split between Indian affiliates once again, a trend for Wright that has lasted his entire career. Starting back out in Kingston, Wright was more prepared for the competition he would face this time around. In 14 starts on the hill he compiled a 2-3 record with a low 2.99 ERA. Once again at the seasons halfway point the Indians promoted the right hander up a level, this time to their AA team in Akron. Facing more experienced hitters for the first time Wright put up respectable numbers in his 14 additional starts. Wright went 4-3 with a 4.30 ERA. Over the course of the 2008 season, Wright kept his walk totals down. While his strike out totals dropped slightly this is largely due to facing more experienced hitters at the AA level.

In 2009 the Indians opted to convert Wright into a relief pitcher. Though the territory was new to him, he transitioned with great success. In 36 appearances back with Akron, he posted a perfect 10-0 record and an impressive 2.32 ERA. Wright’s strikeout and walk totals were inline with his career averages as well and he looked to position himself to make the jump to AAA in 2010. The Indians did just that and started Wright out as a member of the 2010 Columbus Clippers bullpen. Facing even tougher competition Wright got off to a slow start. In nine AAA appearances Wright was hit hard to a tune of a 7.59 ERA. This led the Indians to demote him back to a familiar place, Akron. Wright would end up staying the rest of the season with the Aeros. During this time Wright began throwing a pitch he learned how to throw at a young age, the knuckleball.

houghdickey

Charilie Hough and R.A. Dickey are just two of the knuckleball pitchers who have helped Wright along the way.

During spring training in 2011 the Indians sent long time major league knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti to watch Wright throw the knuckleball and determine if Wright had the right stuff to throw the pitch full-time.  Candiotti was impressed and Wright began his transition into a full-time knuckleball pitcher. Under the tutelage of Candiotti and another long time knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough, Wright began to perfect his craft. The Indians converted Wright back to a starter and let him work on his pitch facing various levels of competition all season long.  In four levels of minor league baseball, Wright started 20 games.  He posted a 4-8 record for the season to go along with a 4.58 ERA. The 2011 season was a success for Wright largely due to the fact that he gained the confidence in throwing the knuckleball for strikes on a regular basis.

Wright began 2012 back in a familiar place with the Akron Aeros. Wright had now spent parts of five seasons with the Aeros in an array of roles. Starting his second year as a full-time knuckleball pitcher he continued to perfect the pitch and get advise from some of the top knuckleballers in the history of baseball. In 20 starts with the Aeros, Wright posted some of the best numbers of his career to a tune of a 9-6 record and a ERA of 2.49. Wright’s rise to the majors was back on track and other teams noticed his growing success with the knuckleball. At the trade deadline the Boston Red Sox traded first baseman Lars Anderson to the Indians in exchange for Wright. The Aeros were currently playing a series verse the Red Sox AA affiliate in Portland so Wright packed his bags and quickly changed locker rooms and uniforms to start yet another chapter of his baseball career.

Wright made one start with Portland and picked up the victory before the Red Sox promoted him to AAA Pawtucket. In four starts with the Paw Sox, Wright posted some impressive numbers going 0-1 with a 3.15 ERA in 20 innings pitched. Unfortunately for Wright the season came to an end but in his short stint in the Red Sox organization he seemed to have made an impression.  In November the Red Sox added Wright to the 40-man roster largely based on his success they witnessed in 2011 as well as his strong starts playing winter ball in the Dominican Winter League. In early January the Red Sox invited Wright along with some of their other top prospects in their organization to a week-long Rookie Development Camp in Boston. During their week the players got to learn their way around Boston, meet Red Sox personne,l and learn what to expect when their name is called and they make it to the big leagues.

In 2013, Wright will continue his pursuit of the major leagues as he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Wilhelm, Hough, Candiotti, Wakefield and Dickey as one of the games great knuckleball pitchers. We will continue to follow him every step of the way during the 2013 season. Be sure to give Steven Wright a follow on twitter @knucklepuck23 and follow us at @CTD_Sypien for updates all season long on his progression to the majors.

Seven Questions with Steven Wright

1. What was it like being drafted? Where were you when you found out?

Actually, I have a completely different story than most. I had mono when I was drafted.  The University of Hawaii was in the regionals at Oregon State so I had flown back down to my parents house because of the Mono. I wasn’t going to be cleared for six weeks so the only way I would have been cleared to play is if we would have made it as far as the world series. So I was at home with my girlfriend (wife now) my parents,  my best friend mike, my grandfather and we heard my name being called over the internet. I tried to cheer and be happy but I was so sick. I was definitely smiling but I couldn’t celebrate like I wanted to. The people who were there with me though were definitely able to celebrate with me and basically celebrate for me.

2. You played your college baseball in the state of Hawaii, Overall what was that experience like for you? What kind of following does the sport of baseball have on the Island?

It was great! I definitely had a good time out there. My freshman year was a little rough. I didn’t know anyone really on the Island. After my freshmen year, I got to know some of the people in the community. I met a great family that helped me and gave me an escape from the college atmosphere. I was then able to relax more. I loved it, I had a great time, I met my wife out there so I definitely have no regrets. The traveling was different, you have to fly wherever you go. It was a great preparation for what I encountered when I eventually got to the minor leagues.

Anyone who is from Hawaii they are definitely going to support. When Shane Victorino was in Hawaii there was a lot of Philly fans or more importantly they were Shane Victorino fans. They definitely stand by the products of Hawaii and have a very close community state-wide. They show their support for guys who are from Hawaii. Even a guy like myself, they have showed me support because I have ties in Hawaii. It got me to where I am at today.

3. In 2011 you converted  to a full-time knuckleball pitcher. Can you tell us the story behind how this ended up happening?

It was a trippy kinda thing. I was definitely in denial. I did not want to be a knuckleball pitcher. I started throwing it at a young age and I’ve thrown it my whole life. I knew I could throw it but I had a lot of pride in my abilities to get guys out with my fastball, my slider and sinker. It took a lot of pride for me to swallow to fully commit. It is a pitch that not a lot of guys know a lot about. When I entered spring training in 2011 I was on the bubble again. It was the second year in a row. Even though I was a second rounder I was on the bubble of being released. I knew it too, no one has to tell you. In spring training I had the chance to throw it here and there and thought this might be the way to impress them. I then had an opportunity to work with Charlie Hough. Talking with him and learning how simple it can be. It’s a hard pitch to throw but he helped me simplify it. So I can keep it where it doesn’t speed up on me. The transition was pretty seemless and now I can’t see myself doing anything else.

4. Has any coach or knuckleballer helped or influenced you since you converted?

Frank Pastore was the guy who got me started. He taught me from a young age. I used to brush up on some of my mechanics before I went to spring training from him.

As far as specifically on the knuckleball Tom Candiotti has helped me a lot. He came down to spring training and helped me out. I would have to say though, Charlie Hough has definitely been the guy. Candy was more of an evaluation bullpen to let the Indians know if it was something he thought I should pursue. When I went to Charlie Hough, it was more of him helping me understand this more. So I got a lot out of those sessions. Candy’s helped me out a lot with texts and phone calls. As far as having a visual perspective of it, Charlie has helped me out a lot. I’ve also got help from other guys too. Wakefield has helped me out even when I was a part of the Indians organization. (R.A.) Dickey too, he has definitely help me out. I’ve watch a lot of film on R.A. and that’s helped me out. It’s given me a visual of someone I would like to become but I’ve also talked to him on the phone and via text and he is helped me out a lot. I’ve got five guys who have been successful and have failed at the highest level. There is nothing that one of those guys haven’t been through.

5. You had the opportunity to play winterball this off-season, How did that go and what was the overall experience and atmosphere like?

It was good for me. I’ve went down and played in Venezuela before so I had an idea of what the atmosphere and the mindset is like down there. It was perfect for what I was trying to accomplish. I went down to work on my delivery. I went down there in that type of environment and faced good competition (MLB, AAA, AA level players). I was pitching in an extremely competitive environment. These cities live for winterball, I wish everyone could experience it at least once. It definitely opens your eyes to how they play the game and why some of those guys are so successful at a young age. They are put into that environment at such a young age. I haven’t made it to the big leagues yet, so I don’t know exactly what it feels like, but if I could imagine what it feels like it is a winterball game in the Dominican or Venezuela.

6. What are your current goals heading into Spring Training and the 2013 season?

Obviously the ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues this season, but for me I just want to keep things simple. I just want to concentrate on the things I can control, keeping the ball in the strike zone, control my workouts and control my intensity. I can’t control player decisions. I just want to keep things simple and not put too much pressure on myself. I just want to go out there and let my skills speak for themselves.

7. You just completed the Boston Red Sox Rookie Development program. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

It’s a great program! They brought us in and put us up with a host family so it helps us get some familiarity around here. We learn how to deal with the media as Boston is such a large market team. We get to know the staff, the ball park, the clubby’s, and the guys that you would deal with on a day-to-day basis in Boston.

We got to go to the Children’s hospital and other events. It’s the life of  big leaguer for a short week. We had some other meetings, strength and conditioning and whats expected of you when you come to the big leagues.

A Few For Fun

1. Who was your favorite player growing up?

Griffey Jr. was a guy I loved to watch. He did things so easy. I am a huge Clemens fan as well. His bulldog mentality, competiveness, and work ethic. You can’t clone someone like that.

2. Favorite Ballpark you have played in?

Pawtucket and Columbus have been fun. Reading (PA.) has been a lot of fun. The atmosphere there is fun and it helps you stay in the game.

3. Who has been the biggest prankster in the clubhouse you have come across?

That’s a good one. Jose Constanza probably. He liked to have a whole lot of fun in the clubhouse. He was always having fun with people.

A special thanks to Steven Wright for taking some time out of his day during the rookie development camp in Boston to answer some questions. We look forward to following him all season long and into the future as he works his way towards his professional debut with the Red Sox. Please give Steven a follow on twitter @knucklepuck23 and like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter @CTD_Sypien as we continue to feature and follow all of our featured players as they chase their way to the major leagues.

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