Spring Training Q&A: Jon Connolly

<B>MESA, Ariz.</B> - LHP Jon Connolly says he wasn't sure what to think when he learned he had been traded to the Cubs from the Detroit Tigers last April.

Inside The Ivy: Jon, tell us a little about yourself for our readers.

Jon Connolly: I went to high school in Oneonta, N.Y., and then got drafted in the 28th round out of high school. My brother, Mike, is a pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system. As for me, I started my professional career in 2001 by playing in my hometown of Oneonta with the Tigers' Low-A team.

Inside The Ivy: Describe the feeling of going from the Tigers' organization to the Cubs. Was there any sense of pressure?

Jon Connolly: I'll be honest; I didn't know what to think when I first found out I had been traded, partly because when I was in Michigan, I had pitched well and had a good year. Being a 28th rounder, I suddenly became highly touted and made a name for myself in the Tigers' organization. Then I got traded, so I didn't know whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. I talked to a lot of people and they encouraged me to take it as a good thing and to keep going. As it turns out, I love it over here. My first start with the Cubs came only a couple of days after I got traded against the team I had just left (Lakeland). You know, having that be the first game I pitched in as a Cub, it was probably the most pressure I'd ever been under. But it was also a very good day, because I pitched well. I felt I needed to put an end to everything there so that I could move on.

Inside The Ivy: You were named Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the Tigers in 2003. What are some of the things you learned with that organization that you took with you to the Cubs?

Jon Connolly: As a pitcher, you have to know yourself. When I was pitching for West Michigan, everyone always said, "The other four starters throw 90-plus and here you are throwing 84-87 mph." They asked how I felt being the one guy who didn't throw as hard, and my answer to that was, "It's all about pitching; not throwing." I had to know how to pitch, throw three pitches for strikes, and understand what kind of pitcher I am and understand I'm never going to blow fastballs by anybody. I learned that at a young age. I was 17 when I got drafted, so it's helped out a lot in sulking things in.

Inside The Ivy: Were you worried about being taken in the Rule Five Draft last year and having to change organization's again?

Jon Connolly: I wasn't so much worried. I told someone in my family that it was a good opportunity if I did get taken, but at the same time, I really did not mind staying put. I love the Cubs' organization and the way they go about everything. I don't want to be one of those guys that moves from club to club every one or two years. I really like to get settled in and go out and pitch without worrying about making a name in every organization or stop along the way.

Inside The Ivy: How much have you pitched this spring, and what are some of the things you're working on at the moment?

Jon Connolly: I got down here on the 24th (of February). We had a mini-camp and threw some bullpen and live batting practice. We're throwing bullpen again now. Being from the north, it takes a little while to get used to throwing outside. My biggest concern is being able to stay on top of the ball and keep it down in the zone. In Spring Training, you have a lot of rust to work off, especially being from up north where it's very cold in the offseason.

Inside The Ivy: Does the weather bother you?

Jon Connolly: Not really. I've been in Spring Training with the Tigers, and one of the biggest differences is that here in Arizona, it's hard to tell how much you're actually doing, because when you sweat it evaporates right away. I'm used to being in Lakeland where you're drenched in sweat. It hasn't bugged me too much. I came out in January for mini-camp and kind of got used to the weather then.

Inside The Ivy: You were dynamite at Daytona last season and you've been a winner at every level of A-ball so far. What's the one thing that makes you so tough?

Jon Connolly: I wouldn't say there's anything that stands out. I've had a lot of success by not going out and trying to outthink everybody. I did that the first two years and when I went to Michigan, I said "Here it is," and told myself that I was just going to throw three pitches for strikes. As a pitcher, you have to pitch your game and not worry what the hitters are thinking. Don't always look for somebody's weakness, but always pitch to your strength, which to me is quick tempo. If I start striking out a lot of people, that's not really what I want to do. Before every year, I'll sit down and make a list of goals for myself. One goal I've had the last two years is to throw 150 innings, and I've done that. You know, I'm trying to bump that up every year. Every year, I set my goals high and lots of people will say, "Yeah, right." But (former Tigers pitching coach) Roger Craig once told us, "Tell yourself you want to win 18 games this year." That way, even if you were to end up only winning 14, it's still a great year. Set your goals extra high and work to achieve them. The closer you get, the better.

Inside The Ivy: What did your offseason consist of and what were some of the things you did to stay in shape?

Jon Connolly: This year was a little different. Basically, I don't really start throwing until December, and by January I'll start throwing bullpen sessions. I'll run 3-5 miles a week in the offseason. Then, it's just total body lifts for my upper and lower body. I work extremely hard all season, because being from the north, I want to be in the best shape possible. It was also a little different this offseason in the fact that I recently got married, so I'm not living at home in Oneonta anymore. I was used to calling my brother up, because he lived in Oneonta as well, to just go work out and throw together. This year was different, as I had to find someone new to work out and throw with.

Inside The Ivy: What are your hobbies? What is something most people don't know about you?

Jon Connolly: I like to read a lot of murder mystery books. James Patterson is a good author. Last year at Daytona, we had a bunch of guys who were reading the books. I'm a big movie fan as well. I'm a big fan of Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner.

Inside The Ivy: Who are some of the pitchers you respect most in the game currently, and from your childhood?

Jon Connolly: One of the guys I like to watch now is Jamie Moyer. He's a lot like I am in that he doesn't throw hard and features a good changeup. I've never really been about one guy, though. I liked the Red Sox growing up, because everything in New York is Yankee, Yankee, Yankee. Now that I'm playing, the Cubs are definitely top of the list now.

Inside The Ivy: Who has had the biggest impact on your career so far?

Jon Connolly: I'll be honest in saying that one of the biggest helps for me has been my brother, just because he was a year ahead of me in high school, ergo I basically got to see him go through everything a year before I did. It's always been nice to be able to call him and ask the difference in this or that. It's kind of nice having an older brother that you can always call and rely on, and know that he'll always tell you the truth.

Author's Note: Connolly struck out 117 in 159 innings last season between Daytona, Lakeland and one late-season start at Double-A West Tenn. He held opposing hitters to a .247 average in 21 starts for Daytona, including a .122 clip against left-handers.

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