Redshirt senior submarine pitcher finishes notable career


Jon Danielczyk, the redshirt senior relief pitcher for Pitt’s baseball team, described his career arc as a Panther as a “journey.” 

Danielczyk did have a storybook career for a towering submarine-style pitcher who wasn’t brought onto the team to pitch. Instead, Danielczyk, at 6-foot-4, was originally recruited by Pitt head coach Joe Jordano as a catcher, coming from Erie, Pa., where he starred as a catcher and pitcher at Cathedral Preparatory School.

Danielczyk was also a member of the National Honor Society in high school, highlighting one of the top qualities Jordano saw in the young northwestern Pennsylvanian.

“We recruited Jon as a catcher,” Jordano, who has been at the helm for the Panthers since 1998, said. “We saw a great kid and a great student. He was very disciplined.”

But despite all of the positives Jordano saw in the young catcher, Danielczyk couldn’t sniff the field. After redshirting, he served primarily as the bullpen catcher for the Panthers. Still, Danielczyk wasn’t the least bit downtrodden.

“I loved being on the team,” Danielczyk said. “I loved putting in the work. Baseball is something I always loved.”

It was that love for the sport that kept Danielczyk coming to Charles L. Cost Field day in and day out. And one day last year, while working with pitching coach Jerry Oakes, that persistence finally paid off, and the entire trajectory of Danielczyk’s baseball career changed for good.

“I was just messing around in the bullpen one day, playing around with our pitching coach and he said a couple of the things I was doing looked pretty good,” Danielczyk said. “So I just kept at [it], kept working at it and it ended up working out for me.”

What Danielczyk was doing was changing the way he threw the ball. As a high school pitcher, he had always utilized a three-quarters delivery, a style of pitching that would hint at submarine style but still, for the most part, resembled a traditional delivery. 

“When he threw over the top, he was pretty firm,” Jordano said. “One of the things coaches try to do to add more deception is to get pitchers to drop the arm angle.”

In the bullpen that day, Danielczyk would drop his arm angle to the extreme. He began throwing the ball submarine style, which is a rarely used, ultra-unorthodox method that sacrifices velocity for deception by setting a pitcher’s release point below the waist. Oakes immediately saw something there and began preparing Danielczyk to become a reliever.

In his then-first year at Pitt, Oakes said the decision to convert Danielczyk came partially out of necessity.

“We just didn’t have that many pitching options,” Oakes, a former seventh round draft pick in the 2000 MLB draft, said. “At the time, I thought, ‘What could I do to get us through this year?’ I just decided we should drop someone’s arm angle to get some more ground balls. And Jon was the one kid I knew could definitely do it. He’s got a big league mentality.”

The transition didn’t occur overnight. Instead, a lot of tweaking and mechanical work went into the conversion.

“Going from up over the top to down below is a whole different world, a different art,” Danielczyk said. “I had to work to get to the point where I could repeat my pitches and get everything consistent. Everyone can make a perfect pitch here or there, but you have to make them consistently to be successful.”

So the coach and player set about reaching this constancy in pitch.

“We worked day in and day out,” Oakes said. “Three to four days a week, drill after drill after drill. It all goes back to Jon. He worked his butt off.”

After more time was spent honing his new skill, Danielczyk was installed into the Pitt bullpen. His first appearance was rough. He recorded one out and surrendered a three-run home run against Wichita State last February.

But Danielczyk settled into his role as the season went on and eventually became one of the Panthers’ most reliable arms, with a highlight last March. He came into an extra-inning contest against Towson University in the top of the 10th inning and proceeded to pitch six shutout innings of relief, earning his first career win.

Danielczyk finished last season with the best ERA of any Panther pitcher, sporting a 1.69 mark in 37.1 innings, while tallying 15 strikeouts. In 2014, facing stiffer competition in the ACC, he was a model of consistency, sporting a 2.61 ERA in 29 appearances, as well as boasting 45 strikeouts and a 4-0 record.

For Pitt starting pitchers like senior Matt Wotherspoon, Danielczyk is an invaluable asset to have on the team.

“He’s the epitome of the word ‘consistency,’” Wotherspoon said. “He’s got such a knack for getting huge strikeouts when we need it. I’ve come out of the game with runners on second and third with one out and Jon just comes in and gets those elusive strikeouts. It’s unbelievable.”

As his career approaches its close, even Danielczyk has to look back at his journey with some surprise, classifying his career as an “unexpected, but welcome success.” 

But his head coach isn’t shocked by how well the former catcher from Erie, Pa., has done.

“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised [by his success]. It’s his level of focus and his level of intensity,” Jordano said, before adding, “Success couldn’t have come to a more deserving person.”