Poland and Pinstripes

It is a summer night in the Bronx. The concourses of Yankee Stadium resemble New York City rush hour with people looking to get their hot dogs and beer before the first pitch. The chime of the ticket scanner reverberates through the hallowed walkways. The grounds crew sprays down a pristine infield with water to darken its already brown hue. A young boy stares in awe of Babe Ruth’s number and plaque in Monument Park.

Soon after, public address announcer Paul Olden flips on the switch of his microphone and proclaims, “ladies and gentlemen, it is time for tonight’s starting lineups.” The chorus of boos for the visiting team soon turns to cheers for their beloved Yankees.

Before he switches off the microphone Olden says, “making his Major League debut, pitcher Artur Strzałka.”

As the fans in attendance try to figure out how to pronounce the starting pitcher’s name, Strzałka will know that all of the hard work he has done in his life has paid off. He will be realizing one of his childhood dreams. His home country, Poland, will be behind him with each pitch he throws.

Like most baseball players, Strzałka began playing the game at an early age. At a primary school in Boguszowicach, he played for a team coached by Mr. Krzystof Fojcika. Originally a first baseman and an outfielder, his pitching career got its start from some words from his coach.

“After my first year, my coach Krzystof Fojcika said to me, ‘go to the mount (mound),’ Strzałka said. “After a few trainings, I played my first game as a pitcher.”

It was this piece advice that put Strzałka on the right track.

Soon after, his parents moved to Rybnik, a city in southern Poland. It was there where he began to train under Mr. Gregory Mularczyk. During these times, Strzałka began to attend various tryouts spread throughout Europe.

In 2011, at the age of 16, he traveled to Prague where he along with other European baseball players tried to realize their dreams and get discovered by Major League Baseball scouts and former players. His pitches were clocked at 81 mph, but this was not good enough to catch the eyes of Major League scouts.

The next year, Strzałka returned to another tryout in front of scouts and former players, but this time something different happened.

“Artur entered the hill (mound) and he was very loose,” teammate Przemysław Paluch said.

His first pitches registered at 70 mph on the radar gun. When scouts saw this, they decided to move onto see other pitchers in the bullpen, but one coach took an interest in Strzałka. That coach was Bruce Hurst, a member of the 1986 American League Champion Boston Red Sox.

Hurst asked if Strzałka was ready.

In response, he then went on to throw pitches that registered on the radar gun at 89 mph.

“Then all radars were directed toward Artur,” Paluch said. “It was already clear that he drew the attention of many clubs.”

After traveling to different camps around Europe and throwing bullpen sessions for more scouts and former players, Strzałka was still without a contract from a Major League team. This was despite the fact that he increased his velocity on his fastball, bringing it to 91 mph.

Just before leaving to go qualify for the European Championships, Paluch received a phone call asking if Strzałka could come to Prague to throw at a tryout arranged by the New York Yankees.

“It was just me, my parents and two scouts,” Strzałka said. “They checked my abilities. After that, they invited me to a restaurant, and we talked for an hour about a contract.”

The Yankees gave Strzałka one day to think about the contract. He could sign on the dotted line, or say no.

“Of course I agreed,” Strzałka said. “The next day, I signed the contract.”

The marriage between Strzałka and the Yankees seemed as if it was meant to be.

“It feels great to be a Yankee,” Strzałka said. “They were my favorite team. I could not imagine a better team. Nice players, nice coaches, communication and professionalism are all we need to achieve victory.”

Friends and teammates of Strzałka could not be happier with the good fortune that has come to him as well.

“It is an honor to have someone in your circle of friends who plays for one of the best teams in the world,” friend Mariusz Paprocki said.

Ever since that contract was signed in July of 2013, Strzałka’s life changed forever. He recently returned back from the Dominican Republic where he played in the Dominican Summer League.

In January, he will travel to Tampa for Spring Training where he will compete for a spot on the 25-man roster.

As a left-hander with a fastball, curveball and changeup in his pitch arsenal, it will be tough to leave him off of the roster.

Although he is excited to be in the United States, it will be tough for him to be away from his home, but he has a way to cope with the distance.

“I am going to request Polish food,” Strzałka said. “I love it. I cannot imagine life without pierogi or gołąbki.”

Major League Baseball is like a fraternity. It is a fraternity that not many get to associate with. Strzałka is different than any other addition to the Major League Baseball fraternity. He is the first man to be signed by a team who was born in and started his baseball career in Poland.

In one to two years, a man with a last name that is not commonly seen on baseball cards will hopefully make his debut in Major League Baseball.

When that day comes, Artur Strzałka will not be the only one making his professional debut. His nation, Poland will be making its debut right alongside him, pitch-by-pitch, game by game.

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