His friends call him Joe "A-to-Z," and Joe Andrezjewski couldn't have a more appropriate nickname.
Andrezjewski's professional baseball career has run the gamut, from being on top of the world to being released two weeks ago by the Milwaukee Brewers.
He's gone from A to Z and wants desperately to get back to A.
"I got a letter in the mail saying I had been released. It was a shock," said Andrezjewski, 21, the former All-County pitcher from Chesapeake High School who had just completed his fourth season in the minors.
"They said it was a numbers thing, but not telling me face to face and telling me by letter was a slap in the face, as far as I'm concerned."
It's likely that the 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-hander, who won't turn 22 until October, will get a second chance with anotherbig-league club. He has age and a great arm on his side, and when that opportunity comes knocking, the world of pro baseball will see a new Joe A-to-Z.
"I was 17, from Pasadena, with no inclination aboutprofessional baseball and the real world when I signed," he said. "From Chesapeake High to the Midwest is where I went, and I admit I hadtrouble adjusting."
Andrezjewski was a hard-throwing 17-year-old his senior year at Chesapeake. Big-league scouts licked their chops when he pitched and the needle on their radar guns hit 90 mph.
After going 7-1 with a 1.25 ERA, 96 strikeouts in only 56 innings and only 39 walks in the spring of 1988, A-to-Z was taken on the third roundof the major league free agent draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Other than former Andover first baseman Jim Spencer, who was the No. 1 pick of the California Angels in June 1965, no other county player had ever been drafted as high as Andrezjewski.
There were two other county products who were No. 1 picks, but they were selected in the January winter draft, which was never as big as the June draft.
Slugging first baseman George Kazmarek of Brooklyn Park, who attended Mount St. Joseph, was tabbed No. 1 by the New York Mets in 1968 after dropping out of the University of Maryland. And Severna Park's David Grier, another hard-throwing right-hander in the mold of A-to-Z, was aNo. 1 pick on two occasions before signing as a later pick of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Grier was chosen No. 1 by the Oakland A's in the winter of 1978, and No. 1 by the Cleveland Indians in the secondary phase of the June draft that year.
Andrezjewski was part of the 1988 draft that included fellow pitchers Gregg Olson (Orioles), Andy Benes (San Diego) and Steve Avery (Atlanta) in the first round.
The kind of success those guys have had at the major-league level is what many scouts, including the Brewers' Walter Youse, had projected for Andrezjewski.
"We thought he was, by far, the best high school pitcher in the state of Maryland; nobody even close to him," Youse said in June 1988, after he and assistant Ken Califano signed A-to-Z to a $60,000 bonus contract.
Andrezjewski turned down scholarship offersto such big-time baseball powers as Miami, Arizona State, Stanford and Fullerton State to turn pro.
Youse, who has signed many super prospects in his nearly 40 years of scouting in the Orioles, California Angels and Brewers organizations, compared Andrezjewski to Greg Arnold.
"I can't think of anyone from this area in the last 10 years who threw as hard as (A-to-Z) does, except for possibly Greg Arnold,"Youse said nearly four years ago.
The flamboyant Arnold, a one-of-a-kind flame-thrower rumored to be the inspiration for the characterNuke Laloosh in the movie "Bull Durham," was signed by Youse for theOrioles back in 1967. After a controversial career that never saw his gifted arm take him to the big show, Arnold, a Southern of Baltimore graduate, was released.
Andrezjewski is not even close to the character Arnold was on and off the field, but the similarities are striking when you talk about heat, potential and demeanor on the hill.
Like Arnold often did, A-to-Z fights himself when he's out on the mound, and it has resulted in a lackluster four-year career in the bushes.
During his rookie season in pro ball in the summer of 1988, Andrezjewski pitched only one inning before tearing up his knee while engaging in horseplay with teammates in an elevator. He suffered torncartilage, and the summer was over.
The following year, Andrezjewski pitched in extended spring training, and later in the Pioneer Rookie League with the Brewers' affiliate in Helena, Mont. He went 3-2.
Everything fell into place for A-to-Z in the spring of 1990 as he charged to a 6-1 start and was named to his minor-league All-Star team. Then, it happened. His season went from dreams of running his fastball up there in the big show, to nightmares.
"I had never injuredmy arm in my life pitching, but suddenly, I developed a strained elbow from throwing my curve ball the wrong way," said Andrezjewski.
Coming off the disabled list, Andrezjewski couldn't find himself and his early season winning ways and finished a dismal 6-9. That finish was to be an omen of more bad news.
Early last season, while pitching for the Class A Erie (Pa.) Sailors, Andrezjewski was sidelined with tendinitis in his right shoulder.
"They had a high school coachfrom New Jersey named Ray Korn running the Erie club and he messed me up big time," said Andrezjewski. "He had coached a USA team of all-stars, but I didn't care for his pitching philosophy. He suggested I throw three-quarters when I came back from the tendinitis because he thought I wasn't getting any velocity."
A live arm had suddenly been reduced to just 82 mph on the gun. No longer could Andrezjewski reach back and overpower hitters with his fastball.
"I can't explainwhat happened, why I lost my velocity," Andrezjewski said. "Some of the veteran pitchers said it was a dead-arm period, but I don't understand that."
He also had not learned to keep his composure when things did not go his way, as he struggled through a 1-5 season with anERA of more than 5.00. Worried about his arm, Andrezjewski only compounded his frustration by becoming his own worst enemy.
"Yeah, I became a head case," he said. "The Brewers had put all those expectations on me and I felt by last year that I should have been pitching inClass AAA. Everybody had told me to throw the fastball over and you will be in the big leagues.
"When you fight yourself, you can't pitch and get people out," said Andrezjewski. "I was constantly fighting myself and things only got worse.
"Yes, immaturity played an important part in my attitude, and I've come to realize that. I wasn't ready to fly out to the Midwest, give it 100 percent and adjust to probaseball. It has taken me a while to grow up and I have re-evaluateda lot of things since last season and getting released."
Andrezjewski says he is a new man with his old arm. Yes, he says the gas is back and that he is "throwing harder than ever."
This winter, Andrezjewski has been working out at Essex Community College with Coach George Henderson, throwing three days a week. Physically, he feels great, and you can say the same for his mental state.
"I'm realizing now that you can't dwell on the past, and I know that the only way to pitch is to know that the most important pitch is the next pitch," said Andrezjewski, referring to the disease pitchers catch when they get wild and keep thinking about the guy they just walked and not the man at the plate.
"I've got my head going in the right direction and won't make the same immature mistakes again. I just want the opportunity to pitch again. And I'm going to show somebody something, goingto show the Brewers they made a mistake."
Andrezjewski says several big league clubs have contacted him and will give him a look, but he can't reveal their names. The Orioles are believed to be among those more than interested in A-to-Z.
"I would love to play for the Orioles," said Andrezjewski, who is free to sign with anybody and intends to do just that in the near future. "I'm not living everybody else's dream anymore. This is my dream now."