Sunday, August 23, 2009


Czyz’s decision pays off


He was without doubt the greatest closer in Kansas University baseball history.

Don Czyz recorded an NCAA-best 19 saves during his senior season in 2006. The 6-foot-2 right-hander compiled a spotless 6-0 record and a 1.56 earned-run average, striking out four times as many batters as he walked.

No one shut the door like Czyz did, and no one did more to help the Jayhawks capture their lone Big 12 tournament title that spring.

Prior to the June ‘06 free agent draft, Baseball America’s scouting report opined that his “…body and arm action aren’t ideal, but he throws strikes and competes like a bulldog.”

The Florida Marlins selected Czyz in the seventh round. Any player selected in a single-digit round is considered a major-league prospect. Czyz’s future looked bright.

Where is he today? Czyz works for Kansas City Power & Light Co. as a contract administrator. His name is now on the list of the legions of pro baseball hopefuls who never came close to making the major leagues.

Not that Czyz, who grew up in Overland Park and graduated from Blue Valley High, has any regrets.

“No, I do not,” he told me from his office in Kansas City, Mo.

As it is with most pitchers, an arm injury hastened Czyz’s decision to give up pro baseball. In early June of last year, he tore the triceps muscle in his pitching arm while with the Marlins’ Class A farm team in Greensboro, N.C.

A triceps tear isn’t the end of the world. In contemporary times, just about any injury can made as good as new — or almost — with proper treatment and rehabilitation. All it takes is time.

So essentially Czyz had come to a crossroads in his life. He was 24 years old, he was spending his second year at the Class A level and had been around long enough to know he would be lucky if he reached the bigs by the time he was 28, if he did at all.

“I came to the realization,” Czyz said, “that there might be a brighter future if I finish my degree.”

Another semester in school was all he needed to obtain a diploma in economics. So he pulled the rip cord. Czyz retired from baseball, reasoning that “the rehab would prolong my returning to get a degree.”

Czyz enrolled on the KU campus a year ago this week and became a December graduate. Then after a few months of job interviews, he landed the job with KCP&L; last spring.

KU baseball coach Ritch Price admires what Czyz did. Price has seen many of his former players linger too long in the minor leagues, dreaming the dream and refusing to face reality.

“Czyz is an interesting guy,” Price said. “He’s very goal-oriented, and he was frustrated where he was at. He was tired of the grind, and tired of being broke.”

Now that Czyz is back in the real world with the rest of us working stiffs, he stands as a classic example of a student-athlete who heard the message and paid heed.

We rarely hear about them, but sooner or later most of them come to realize they have a much better chance of making a living with a sheepskin than they do as a professional athlete.


MinnesotaJay 10 years, 11 months ago

Congratulations to Don. Securing a good job in this economy is a nice win in itself.

Brad Avery 10 years, 11 months ago

Here's an economics lesson. If he had reached the majors and spent one season, he would have earned 4-8 times what most "decent paying" jobs in the nonbaseball world earn, making the wait well worth it. Finishing a degree was smart; not so sure about whether jumping out of baseball early.

FlaHawk 10 years, 11 months ago

He had about a 5% change of make it to MLB, if he was in his 2nd year at Class A. This was before arm injury. Since he was NOT a startinf pitcher type, the chance of developing into a MLB is even less.

When was the last time you heard ofcareer a minorlLeague relief pitcher making to MLB from Class A.

He made the correct choice! The handwriting was on the wall!

jhawkteacher 10 years, 11 months ago

I had the good fortune to coach Don at Blue Valley High, not in baseball, but soccer. He was a great kid and a blast to be around. I am thrilled that he is making good decisions and finding his way in life. He was such a pleasure.

Brad Avery 10 years, 11 months ago

FLA Hawk, there are two levels of Class A ball, low and high. I don't know what Greensboro was, but assuming he stayed healthy and made it to AA by age 25, a jump to the majors would not be out of the question. Of course, the odds were low. Unless you get a mega buck bonus, the odds are low for anyone. But the chance to play baseball for a living is an opportunity many of us would give up a lot for.

Ben Kane 10 years, 11 months ago

he was a joy to watch during his KU career!

Jeremy LeMaster 10 years, 11 months ago

How much does one make in the different levels of minor league baseball? I always hear that it is not much but is that compared to the average salary of a non-athlete / entertainer? Or is that compared to the minimum salary of a pro?

buckleyhawk 10 years, 11 months ago

Not sure what it's jumped to (and my guess is not much considering it took 15 years for a uniform salary increase the last time), but 5 years ago a low-A player started at around $1200 a month, a high-A started at around $1350 and a AA player started at about $1600; at the lower levels, if you repeat a level, the next year you get an extra $50 (maybe $100) a month. Keep in mind that is only for April (you don't get paid for spring training) through around the first week of September...until you hit AAA you are more or less guaranteed to never make more than $10,000 a year playing baseball.

I think it's real hard to understand what playing baseball for a living in the minor leagues is until you do it. It's pretty cool for a while, but it doesn't take real long for the fact that you live in less-than-ideal living quarters, in less-than-ideal towns/cities (especially when you are coming from Lawrence), living from paycheck to paycheck (and then having to come home and do something you really don't want to do to be able to live), to sink in. Throw an injury on top of that where you have to rehab for 4-5 hours a day and then sit through a 3-hour baseball game, knowing you won't get to participate in one for a long time...yeah, it's real understandable to not want to do that anymore when the chips are seemingly stacked against you.

Czyz was a bad dude on the mound and is a good guy off it. He will do well regardless of what he does.

Jeremy LeMaster 10 years, 11 months ago

I wasn't saying anything about his decision to leave and get a degree (wasn't sure if you thougth that's where I was coming from). I was just curious about the situation.

Anyway, thanks for the info Buckley.

It doesn't sound like that is too bad of a deal for getting paid to play baseball. Could be rough during spring training and then possibly have to get a job to pay the bills between end of the season and spring training.

However, I admire Czyz for making the decision to finish his degree.

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