For two Long Island University baseball alums, their work ethic is the difference between making it and striking out.
On New Year’s Eve, when most 20-somethings were getting ready for a night out on the town, James Jones and John Ziznewski were hard at work training for the upcoming season.
Both are diligently preparing to improve on their 2014 campaigns which were marked by a series of firsts for the former Blackbirds. Jones finished his first season in the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners, narrowly missing the American League Wild Card by one game. Ziznewski, an eighth round selection of the Chicago White Sox, completed his first season as a pro with the club’s rookie league team in Great Falls, Montana. So why were they hacking away at baseballs at Long Island University when most of their peers were out ringing in 2015?
“I want to go out there and play to the best I can,” Jones said. “All I can do is prepare and just make it hard on the [Mariners] staff out there and see where it lands for me.”
Ziznewski was even more motivated by watching the newly minted major leaguer train so hard.
“It’s a process,” Ziznewski said. “I’ve got to be patient. It all starts with your routine and your work ethic. Everyone has talent, but if you have work ethic, that’s the biggest thing.”
When the Mariners had two injuries during the first week of the season, Jones was quickly called up from AAA in Tacoma. It was the culmination of a life-long pursuit of a Brooklyn baseball phenom who started in the sandlots for the Brooklyn Bonnies at age 7.
“It was a dream come true,” Jones said. “Going there, I wasn’t used to anything. I had a lot of good teammates that helped me to find my routine with everything. It was amazing.”
His initial stay was brief, but Jones did manage to get a hit in his first major league at-bat, signaling his arrival in the big leagues.
“I didn’t even see it, I was so nervous —but after the first pitch, I settled down,” Jones said. “I’m happy that I got one in.”
Jones realized another dream when he had the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family at Yankee Stadium — despite wearing the opposition’s colors.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Jones spent plenty of time watching Robinson Cano work his magic for the Yankees. When the Mariners signed the perennial All-Star last year, little did Jones know that they would be teammates in a matter of weeks. He quickly found a mentor in Cano, who has helped direct his efforts on both offense and defense.
“He just has a plan every time he’s up there,” he said of Cano. “Even in the field, he’s one step ahead, knowing the team’s tendencies and trusting it. That’s the biggest thing he drills in me — just being prepared and sticking with it.”
Jones and Ziznewski are taking Cano’s lessons in preparedness to heart, working out daily at their alma mater, both with a plan in mind as they approach spring training. They aim to return to their clubs ready to endure the rigors of an entire baseball season.
Their connection to Long Island University still runs deep. They wear the black and silver proudly in the pro ranks, taking the lessons they’ve learned in Brooklyn and applying them to the next stages of their careers. It is where they gained their work ethic, which they want to pass on as role models for young players coming after them, practicing even when others are taking time off.
“I want to be an example,” Jones said. “I want kids that are growing up feeling like that they don’t have a chance of ever making it to see a path and let them know that it is possible.”