The bathroom mirror told Nick Chmielewski when he would begin throwing breaking balls.
According to father Chris' edict, he couldn't throw a curve "until I started growing facial hair."
The fatherly advice paid dividends. Though still learning the art of pitching, the 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound Sandburg right-hander posted a 9-1 record with one save this season and earned a scholarship to Illinois. For his accomplishments, Chmielewski was named to the first team of the Tribune Baseball All-State Team.
Like most young pitchers, Chmielewski felt the lure of throwing breaking pitches when he got into junior high, but there was one problem: His father wouldn't hear of it.
"He basically told me I wasn't strong enough and couldn't start until the end of my freshman year, start of my sophomore year," Nick Chmielewski said. "I remember kids in seventh and eighth grade [throwing them]. It would be a little bit of a struggle [to accept the rules]."
On the freshman team things went great with a basic repertoire. When he moved up to the varsity as a sophomore, life was not so good.
"At first it was terribly frustrating," he said. "That whole year I struggled to find the curve ball. I tried to rely on my fastball and changeup. I didn't have the best season. It definitely got to me because I was used to winning.
"I had to take some loses and go through growing pains. I learned to throw a cut fastball and used that as a put-away pitch. It was mostly fastballs all the time. The second or third time through the order they'd start sitting on my fastball and teeing off."
These days Chmielewski has good command of his off-speed pitches, which makes his 94-m.p.h. heater even tougher to hit. He struck out 93 batters in 68 innings for the Eagles.
More than forty colleges had no problem with Chmielewski's developing mound game. He settled on the Illini over Kentucky, Notre Dame and Missouri, in part to ward off homesickness. The Illini get a top-line athlete. Chmielewski played free safety and wide receiver on the Eagles football team. Despite the fact he didn't play basketball as a junior, he returned in the sixth-man role as a senior.
Chmielewski realizes he has baseball upside, and he lets his dad know about it.
"I thank him for it now," he said. "My arm hasn't had any problems. Hopefully throughout my career as I move on my arm will be all right because of it."
Sandburg hopes to have another reason to be grateful for the Chmielewski household-pitching canon. Eighth-grader Eric enrolls there next year.
Joining Chmielewski on the mound on the first team is LaSalle-Peru's Brett Zawacki, who is headed to Arizona State after posting an 11-0 record with 130 strikeouts in 70 innings.
Lyons outfielder Casey McMurray, committed to Illinois, is a first-team member for the second straight season after hitting .481 with a .870 slugging percentage.
Gatorade's Illinois player of the year, Clemson-bound Rockford Boylan shortstop Jake Smolinski, hit .551 with 43 RBIs to earn first-team honors.
At catcher is Driscoll's Adam Davis, who used his combination of hitting (.526, seven home runs and 45 RBIs) and defense (nailed 60 percent of baserunners) for a stellar junior season.
Buffalo Grove's Ryan O'Gara hit .510 with 56 RBIs and was slick with the glove at first base with a .992 fielding percentage.