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.