Cody Nusbaum was Mr. Clutch on the mound for the Weston baseball team and hopes to fulfill this role for Muhlenberg College next year. A senior captain before graduating in June, he earned All-SWC Honorable Mention in compiling a 5-3 record with a 3.43 ERA, 22 walks and 46 strikeouts and many people around him felt he deserved higher honors.
"It's an honor to be mentioned at all and I was happy with it," Nusbaum said. "I was satisfied with the way I played this year."
When the season started, the righty Nusbaum was Weston's No. 2 pitcher, but by the end of the year, he became its ace. He moved up because of his competitive nature, which enabled him to win the big games, shutting down defending champion Newtown at Harbor Yard, tossing a one-hitter in a 3-0 victory over Notre Dame of Fairfield on Senior Day and beat Newtown again in the SWC quarterfinals on the road.
"I did what I had to do, I did my job and it paid off," he said. "Winning the big game gave me confidence. I did what I was supposed to do and I left everything on the field."
His desire and determination contributed to his stepping it up in big games.
"Cody was a gamer on the mound," Trojans Coach Frank Fedeli said. "He always wanted the ball and was very gutsy with his knuckleball. He could set batters up with it and then blow a fastball by them."
Becoming the ace pitcher wasn't easy for Nusbaum because he had to bounce back from an injury. He missed most of his junior year because he injured his left knuckle while stealing a base.
"When it first happened, it was the end of the world for me because the junior year is the biggest recruiting year," he recalled. "After I recovered from the injury, I pitched a lot in the summer and I got my confidence back. I went to showcases in Hartford and got a lot of looks. I got a lot of letters and calls from recruiters, which also helped me restore my confidence."
Bouncing back from injuries is never easy but Nusbaum remained undeterred by it.
"Cody bounced back from the injury because he wanted to have a season that Weston High School has never seen before," Fedeli said.
His spirit and aggressiveness also contributed to his success. In turn, Nusbaum's drive was instrumental in Weston's 14-6 record, 16-6 overall, its best season in its history.
"He's a good kid and the best thing in my mind of him is his competitiveness and you can't instill that in anyone, especially in baseball," Trojans pitching coach Chris Winkler said.
At 6'1, 175 pounds, he credits his built for his success on the mound.
"I have long legs, which helped me when I was little and I'm able to generate power through it," Nusbaum said.
At age 13, righty Mike Odierna (Weston, '08), who is a friend and classmate of Nusbaum's older brother, Jesse, increased his pitching repertoire by introducing him to the knuckleball and helped him with the grip. Since then, the knuckleball has become the younger Nusbaum's No. 1 pitch.
"I love it because it's a rare pitch and I turn heads when I throw it," Nusbaum says. "I credit my confidence because it's important to believe on the mound that `I will get you out' and my mindset on the mound is `I'm going to get you out.'"
In throwing a knuckleball, he holds it a different way than the usual knuckleball pitcher. His ability to fool batters with it makes this pitch even more effective for him.
"First off, it's all in the grip," Nusbaum said. "People think you put your knuckles on the ball but I put my index finger and middle finger on top of the seams and I have the motion of a fastball when I throw it, but I don't flick my wrists and it puts less stress on my arm. It fools batters because they think it's a fastball but there's no rotation on the ball and the seams drop."
The knuckleball isn't his only pitch he throws. In addition to it, he also throws a 4-seam fastball, a 2-seam fastball, a slider and a changeup. Being unpredictable on the mound contributed to his success.
"I like to mix it up a little bit, throwing a mid to upper 80s fastball and then throw a 60 miles per hour [MPH] knuckleball to keep them off-balance," Nusbaum said. "Repetition is important. I long toss and get my pitching done. My pitching coach, Chris Winkler, helped me a lot. Certain pitches aren't appropriate to throw on certain counts and it all depends on the batter. When I face the meat of the order, I try to throw them junk to keep them off-balance."
The fastball is his second pitch and when Nusbaum throws it, he throws heat. He usually throws it 86 MPH and it tops out at 88 MPH.
"My size and my legs, help," Nusbaum said. "I get a lot of power pushing off the mound and I've thrown hard since Little League. Lifting helps and working out on my core and legs helps a lot."
In the end, he credits his coaches for his success.
"Coach Fedeli is a great coach and he helped me a lot on and off the field," Nusbaum said. "He's a great, great coach and I couldn't have asked for a better guy to coach me."
At the plate, he batted .333 with two doubles, one home run, 11 runs scored and 11 RBI.
"I realized it was my senior year and I wanted to step it up," he said. "I'm a consistent hitter, not a standout hitter and it's all about rhythm. Once I sat back on the ball and trusted my hands, I was able to get more power on it."
Nusbaum also possesses speed as his 10 stolen bases would attest.
"My speed comes from running a lot," Nusbaum said. "The day after pitching, Coach Winkler had us run 2.5 miles to break down the lactid acids and get out all the toxins from your body."
Defensively, Nusbaum played in center field when he didn't pitch this year. Previously, he was an infielder, playing at third base, shortstop and second base. His speed helped him defensively over there.
"I love playing in center field because I love the thrill of throwing guys out," Nusbaum said. "Repetition and shagging balls in the outfield, helped. Genetics also helped [Jesse Nusbaum was the starting center fielder at Weston and at Muhlenberg]."
Life on the diamond for him began at age 4 and he loved it ever since.
"Everyone was playing it and I realized it was my niche and I could do something with it," Nusbaum said. "Once I found my niche as a pitcher, baseball became my passion because everything came natural to me."
Growing up, he played almost every sport. Once he got to high school, he tried wrestling freshman year but decided to focus solely on baseball after that.
Leadership is a strength of his as he served as captain with two of his teammates. Nusbaum led by example through his work ethic but he also led verbally by exhibiting his spirit and intensity in the dugout.
"It was an honor, especially since I was injured my junior year," he said. "You learn a lot about yourself in these situations. Fedeli's trust, especially after my injury junior year, meant a lot to me."
His love for the game and desire to succeed helped him become a verbal leader.
"It comes from my passion for the game," Nusbaum said. "I'm passionate on the field and I'm always intense, screaming from the dugout. You have to show you want it because the other kids will want it."
Academically, Nusbaum graduated with a 3.5 grade point average. English and history are his favorite subjects.
"I take the same approach for both, you have to be passionate about your schoolwork and athletics," he said. "School comes first and I know I have to study for a test ahead of time."
At Muhlenberg, he's majoring in education. He hopes to teach English and history at the high school level upon graduating.
For now, his focus is on pitching for Muhlenberg and will be a teammate of his older brother. He knows he'll have to raise his play to the next level because he'll face better players than he did at Weston.
"I hope to work with my coaches at Muhlenberg and hopefully, they will give me tips on my pitching," Nusbaum said. "It's great to be playing with Jesse because we're very close and he's always been my mentor."
One thing Nusbaum will have to give up is hitting because most colleges have a designated hitter bat for the pitcher.
"I'm going to miss it but pitching is my calling," he said. "If my coach wants me to hit, I'd gladly accept it, but my focus is pitching."
His coaches are confident he'll succeed at Muhlenberg.
"I think with hard work and the using the focus and determination that he has, Cody will be a successful player at the next level," Fedeli said. "He knows that success just won't come to him and that he has to work hard both on the field and more importantly off it in the classroom. It has been a great five years at Weston so far for me because I have had a Nusbaum on each of my teams. We hope to see him continue his success in college."