Chris Nowlin threw his first competitive pitch in a professional game at the age of 25, and for the last six seasons he has played professionally in the U.S. and abroad─without ever having played baseball in high school or college. He was able to do this because he followed his dream and because he had a great mentor.
On a warm and humid New England afternoon, a young Nowlin had a run-in with fate. His father treated him to a game at Fenway Park where Tim Wakefield would be making one of his first appearances as a Red Sox. He snuck down behind the backstop and watched the ball dance toward the catcher. “That’s magic,” he thought. From then on, whenever the weather warmed up he’d toss balls around the yard and pretend to be a Major League knuckleballer.
Nowlin focused on academics and graduated from the University of Massachusetts. He was preparing for law school when he decided to throw caution to the win and chase his dream instead. He sold everything he owned for $500 on the front yard of his college house, packed up his car, and drove to the Southwest. There he committed himself to doing the impossible: becoming a professional knuckleball pitcher even though he hadn’t played baseball since Little League.
That’s when Charlie Hough took him under his wing. Nowlin learned to throw the knuckleball from the 24-year Major League vet alongside R.A. Dickey, the eventual 2012 Cy Young Award winner.
Nowlin was a clean slate when Hough found him. He had no bad habits to break and he learned everything about the delivery of the knuckleball from the ground up. Moreover, his relative inexperience when he began his pitching career obliged him to forge a rock-solid mental approach if he was to successfully navigate the egos and stress of the pro game.
Nowlin has developed his deep understanding of the knuckleball with the help of the knuckleball fraternity: Charlie Hough, RA Dickey, Phil Niekro and Tom Candiotti. Having endured the turbulent life of a minor league knuckleball pitcher for the past six years, he brings to the International Knuckleball Academy a wealth of knuckleball-specific knowledge of body and mind.
Texas native Dallas Strankman grew up with baseball. He was a high school standout and eventually wound up as the closer on the Division 1 Colorado State Rams in Fort Collins, Colorado. Everyone thought he had a tremendous baseball career ahead of him. But Strankman ran into shoulder trouble. Unable to throw without significant pain, his velocity dropped and Major League teams decided to take a pass on him in the MLB draft.
Strankman took his Bachelors of Arts degree to Phoenix, Arizona to pursue a fallback career in graphic design, and in Phoenix he met current IKA Program Director Chris Nowlin. The two formed a bond and began to rigorously train for a run at pro baseball. Turning his whole world upside down, Strankman reinvented himself and developed a wicked sidearm delivery.
His heavy, sharp sinker and Frisbee slider turned him into a formidable pitcher, leading to a contract offer from the double-A level El Paso Diablos. After years away from the game, his reinvented delivery had made it possible to play professional baseball as a 28-year-old rookie. Strankman quickly established himself as a nasty and dependable late-inning fireman reliever. His heavy sinker had hitters pounding the ball into the ground at the mile-high Cohen stadium. After being traded, he ended a short and successful career as a member of the double-A level Ottawa Rapids.
Dallas had learned a lot during his time as a pro baseball player and decided to make baseball his career. He became a special education teacher and baseball coach in Scottsdale, Arizona. Coach Strankman is responsible for two out of the three baseball championships in Saguaro High School history, leading the pitching staff in back-to-back Arizona State Championships in 2010 and 2011.
Dallas met his wife, Jessica, during a chance meeting while coaching his high school team at a tournament in Telluride, Colorado. Dallas and Jessica are bringing their daughter Madelyn to Vero Beach from Denver, Colorado, where Strankman founded Empact ministry, an organization dedicated to enriching the community and empowering single mothers.
Strankman made his pro debut at the age of 28, after having been away from organized baseball for years. He understands the rigors of the professional game and knows that you don’t need to throw 90 miles per hour to enjoy a successful professional career. As a coach, he excels at personalization of mechanics and in-game mental tactics. And he knows how to engineer a comeback.
Baseball Operations and Development Coordinator
As Baseball Operations and Development Coordinator, Ezra Wise oversees IKA’s recruiting, marketing, program development, talent evaluation, online operations and management operations. Ezra played four years of varsity baseball at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and served as the Baseball Program Director at Camp Winaukee in Moultonborough, New Hampshire for each of the past two summers. For the past year he has been locked inside his Minneapolis office developing the IKA operation that exists today, leaving his desk only to eat, sleep, work out and play baseball. With a fervent passion for advanced baseball analytics and cutting-edge trends in the world of baseball training, Wise brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Academy.
Sweta Bhadra has 16 years of experience in business management. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Patna University in Patna, India, and her Master of Science degree from the University of Maryland.
Sweta began her career as a project manager at Price Waterhouse Coopers in Philadelphia and went on to a managerial role at Mankad & Magill, also in Philly.
For the past three years she has been the vice president of Rich Acquisitions LLC, where she oversees the purchase and performance of several businesses, including startups. She is a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, and would like to stress that no former New Yorkers in the office hold it against her.
Sweta has been a driving force in starting the International Knuckleball Academy and will be overseeing all IKA functions.
The efforts of Chris, Dallas, Ezra and Sweta are supported by several highly qualified staffers, whose responsibilities include strength and conditioning instruction, yoga, mental performance enhancement and administration.