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April 30, 2007 at 10:30 AM

Twelve Questions with Charlie Zink

For the fourth installment of Twelve Questions with Top Prospects, SoxProspects.com exchanged some questions and answers with Portland SP Charlie Zink. As you'd expect, a lot of interesting questions and answers about the knuckleball. Thanks a bunch to Charlie for taking time out of his busy schedule during the season! Here are his responses to the questions from the SoxProspects Community.

1. Hey Charlie, thanks for answering our questions. I’ll start it off - what’s your baseball background? Were you a dominating pitcher in high school/college? A good hitter? Play any other positions? Play any other sports?
Charlie: Well, I didn't start playing baseball until I was 11, I had been Taekwondo from the ages of 6-12 so that took up all my time. Then, one day my friend’s dad asked me to play on his little league team so I decided to give it a shot. I went to the tryouts and got drafted before he could pick me so I wasn't even on the same team as my friend. My dad and I would always throw a football so I had a strong arm and pitching came very easy to me. In high school I played SS, 1B, and pitched. I put up pretty good numbers my senior year... I think I hit .480 with 10 home runs and was 10 -1 with a 1.00 ERA. I also threw a perfect game with a bunch of scouts there to watch me, but I didn't throw hard enough to impress anyone. So after getting some offers to go play at some small schools I ended up going to Sacramento City College. I didn't pitch a whole lot my freshman year but we did win the state championship and I got a nice ring. Then I went to Savannah College of Art and Design with Luis Tiant as my head coach. I finished in the top 5 in the nation for K/9 my last two years there. At this point, the scouts said I threw hard enough, but they didn't like my mechanics, so I ended up not getting drafted and wanted to give up on baseball. But I ended up getting the call to try out for the Red Sox and I'm still having fun playing baseball.

2. How did you become a knuckleballer? Every kid that ever picks up a baseball tries a knuckleball, and almost no one can actually throw it. Did it just come naturally to you, or did you decide one day you wanted to learn how to throw it?
Charlie: I actually figured out how to throw the knuckleball when I was 11 I think. I saw Wakefield throwing it during the playoffs for the pirates and I was just fascinated. It came really easy to me and I would always throw it playing catch, However, I didn’t throw a knuckleball in a game until 2002. All of my coaches growing up said it was stupid and I shouldn't mess around with it.

3. We've heard varying reports that Tim Wakefield has given you advice on throwing the knuckleball. Anything specific that has helped? Have you ever worked or talked with any other former MLB pitchers such as Charlie Hough or the Niekros?
Charlie: I worked with Wakefield a few times every spring training for the past four years. He has been really helpful in just teaching the little things that I never knew before about how to be consistent. I think I've learned the most by just watching him and seeing how he pitches in different situations. I also worked with Charlie Hough for about a week during spring training two years ago. He was extremely helpful and it was nice to have another person to talk to about the knuckleball. I would love to work with the Niekros, but the opportunity hasn’t presented itself.

4. Most knuckleball pitchers have blossomed late in their careers. Is it difficult to try and master such a tricky art while your fellow prospects are advancing above you?
Charlie: It has been a little difficult not being able to play with the guys I have been coming up with for the past couple years, but I know if I keep pitching the way I have been and can stay consistent, I'll be playing with them soon enough.

5. Charlie, thanks for taking the time and best wishes on a long career. Which catchers in the organization have had the most success catching your knuckler? Have there been any that stand out?
Charlie: One of my favorite catchers was Edgar Martinez. We had a great pitcher/catcher relationship. Recently I have really enjoyed throwing to Dusty Brown. I have a lot of confidence in him and he really helps to control the running game for me.

6. What is the mindset of a knuckleballer like? Are you pitching to avoid contact, trying to strike out guys, or just hoping to get the ball over? Do you try to spot each pitch in an exact location, or something else? Do you throw different varieties of knuckleballs to get different effects?
Charlie: I'm always trying to get contact from the hitters. I try to pound the zone and when that happens I tend to have a lot of success. I never try to throw to a spot, I always try to throw it right at the catchers head and let the ball move wherever it wants to go. I will change speeds on the knuckleball and I tend to get the best movement when I'm throwing it 65-69, I will throw a slower one around 60 if somebody seems to be timing it well.

7. Have any of your teammates messed around with the knuckleball under your tutelage? Anybody stand a chance at mixing it into their repertoire? Have you worked with John Barnes at all?
Charlie: Just about every day I have people throwing knuckleballs all around asking my advice. Its just one of those pitches that everyone fascinated by but not many can throw it. I wouldn't advise any of them to become a knuckleball pitcher anytime soon. I played catch one time with John Barnes in spring training and I hated it. Now I know why nobody likes to play catch with me, his ball moves a lot and he throws it pretty hard.

8. Are there any stadiums where your knuckleball works particularly better or worse than normal? What do you believe are the ideal weather conditions for throwing the knuckleball?
Charlie: I really like throwing when its humid with a slight breeze blowing out to centerfield. Having the wind blow in my face helps the ball jump around a little bit more. Portland is a great place for me to pitch because the wind usually blows out to center and in the summer it gets nice and humid.

9. I was wondering about your secondary pitches. Besides the knuckleball, what pitches do you throw, how often and, how do you rate them?
Charlie: Besides the knuckleball I throw a fastball around 80-86 and I also throw a cutter which I'll use when I think the hitter is waiting for a fastball.

10. Do you feel being shuffled up and down the organization the last few years has hurt your ability to develop consistency?
Charlie: Not at all... I feel I have been developing quite nicely over the past couple years.

11. How would you rate your pick-off move and your ability to keep down stolen bases against you?
Charlie: I think I have a pretty good pick-off move, and I have a good idea of what's going on in the game and when I need to be a little bit quicker to home. I really don't worry about it a lot anymore since I have Dusty Brown behind the dish.

12. In 2004, Baseball Prospectus ranked you as the 50th Top Prospect in all of baseball. Assuming you heard about it at the time, what was your reaction? In general, how much attention do you and your teammates pay to prospects rankings?
Charlie: Honestly the whole "prospect" thing has come and gone with me. I don't worry about it anymore. I know I have to go pitch and get people out. That's all I can control.

Bonus question: What do you and your teammates like to do to celebrate a nice win, such as today’s win? (NOTE: referring to Zink’s win on 4/28)
Charlie: After a nice win we usually just hang out together in the clubhouse and play some ping pong or video games. Nothing too exciting...