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Q&A: JJ Putz discusses Michigan; his MLB career

Al Behrman/AP
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By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 1, 2011

It’s not a stretch to say JJ Putz is the most successful active Wolverine in professional baseball.

The Arizona Diamondbacks closer is enjoying the 11th season of his big-league career. He spent six seasons with the Seattle Mariners where he was an All-Star in 2006 before moving on to the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox and Diamondbacks in the last three years.

Putz hails from Trenton, Mich. and was drafted out of high school in the third round by the White Sox but turned down a contract to come to Ann Arbor. He was drafted again after his junior year in the 18th round and a third time after his senior year by Seattle in the 6th round.

He lived in West Quad down the hall from Tom Brady his freshman year and led the Michigan baseball team to the NCAA Regionals his senior season.

The Michigan Daily got in touch with him in June to discuss his time at Michigan and his life in the major leagues.

The Michigan Daily: How did you like your time at Michigan and how did being on the team there prepare you for professional ball?

JJ Putz: My time at Michigan was probably the best time of my life. I’ve got lifelong friends that I met there and I was fortunate enough to meet my wife (then-Michigan softball player Kelsey Kollen) there.

As far as getting prepared for pro ball, I think having the program that Michigan has helped, as far as the weight and conditioning programs that we grew accustomed to there. The travel, that’s the hardest thing in baseball. Being a cold weather team, we always had to travel for spring break. And the overall facilities that we had there that we had at our disposal definitely was something that helped me once I got to the big leagues. I already had a routine as far as lifting and running. I think that, coming out of high school, took me a while to get used to.

TMD: What was your best memory on the team, on or off the field?

JP: My sophomore year I was pitching when we clinched the Big Ten against Ohio State. And I got the last out and just seeing the mob on the mound. And being at the bottom of that pile, seeing the faces on all the guys and knowing how hard we worked to get to that point, that was definitely a memory that I’ll remember.

TMD: What made you want to go to Michigan and what was the recruiting process like?

JP: I think, deep down, I always wanted to go there. But I took a trip to University of South Carolina and I really enjoyed it. I thought that’s where I was going to end up going. And then once Bill Freehan and Ace Adams, both coaches at the time, recruited me, sat down with me and talked to me about the Michigan experience and what it means to be a Michigan man, that pretty much sealed the deal for me. I really believe that deep down, I always wanted to go there. I think South Carolina was good to see what was out there, but when it came down to making a decision, it was really a no-brainer.

TMD: You were a third-round pick out of high school; was there an urge to play professionally at that point?

JP: You know, there wasn’t. I didn’t really feel like I was ready for that next jump. I don’t think I was mature enough for it. I think by going to college, it allowed me to grow up, not really too fast. There’s not a second that goes by that I regret not signing. That was the best decision I think I’ve ever made in my entire life.

TMD: You stayed all four years unlike a lot of people, did you think of leaving after your junior year?

JP: I think I might have, but I blew my knee out that year. I still got drafted junior year by the Twins and they had a really good offer. But once again, I think I made the right choice. I really didn’t want to go into professional ball in rehab and that would have been the case. I decided to stick around my senior year and I think everything worked out.

TMD: In the minors, you had been a starter until you got moved up to Tacoma (AAA) and they moved you to reliever. Did you welcome that change and was it a hard transition?

JP: It was definitely a hard transition because that’s all I had been doing my whole life — starting. In 2003 they decided to move me to the bullpen. It was probably the best thing for my career because in 2003 the Mariners’ five starters didn’t miss a start.