Michael Bowden will not pitch again this season, and you wouldn’t want to be the person who had to tell him. About 10 days ago, I was in Portland reporting for a story, and I chatted briefly about Bowden with Sea Dogs manager Arnie Beyeler and pitching coach Mike Cather, the tandem who tutored him for much of this season.
Both spoke about Bowden like he was some combination of Bill Brasky, Jack Bauer and Roger Clemens. In the span of a combined eight minutes or so, Cather and Beyeler called him “a bulldog,” “the alpha dog,” and “the toughest guy I ever had to take out of a game.”
Beyeler said – apparently only half-kidding – he once feared Bowden would actually punch him when he walked to the mound and stuck out his palm. Cather told a story about pulling him 15 pitches early just so he or Beyeler would eliminate the prospect of yanking him mid-inning.
I’d heard a few people mention Bowden’s “character,” and I asked Beyeler if he had any insight on what exactly that meant.
(A quick forewarning: Arnie Beyeler can talk. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing, because he’s insightful and entertaining and he wears the kind of mustache you imagine minor league managers wearing. When he gets rolling, his passion makes him downright effusive. I asked him two questions about Bowden; the responses totaled 870 words. But all of it was helpful and interesting, so, dig in.)
“If all the players we had were Michael Bowdens, we wouldn’t need coaches,” Beyeler said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He is so driven. He’s the first guy here, he’s the last guy out every day. He’s here to get better, every day he’s here. You ask him to do this, he does that, every bit and more. You never know he’s around, to the good point. He takes care of his own business. He’s the guy, every time you turn around, oh, Michael’s working. Oh, Michael’s doing something to get better. Oh, he’s doing this. He’s doing pick-off drills, towel drills. He’s constantly doing something that benefits where he’s trying to go.
“He’s a bulldog. He’s got that bulldog mentality when he’s on the mound. He’s the toughest guy I ever had to take out of a game. He just doesn’t … you just don’t get a good feeling when you go to take him out of the game. He’s never happy. Nobody is, but even if he throws seven innings and throws his 95 pitches and he’s got one or two hits, he’s upset because you’re coming to take him out of the game. I guess all pitchers are like that. But for some reason, the focus and just the drive that he has, when you go out to the mound to take him out of the game, there’s a different intensity there. The focus in the eyes, it’s almost like, ‘Don’t you dare come out here.’ Or, ‘What are you doing out here on my mound?’
“It’s fun. But it’s, as a manager, you don’t feel comfortable when you go get him out of the game. You put your hand out and it’s like, I don’t know. He might just drop me right here. But for the right reasons.
“On his day, just let him pitch. When he’s in the dugout, just let him go. He’s that focused guy. If you want to tell him something, you better wait until the next day or until later on, after the game, because it’s his time. He’s focused on what he wants to do. He doesn’t want to hear all the garbage. ‘Leave me alone, let me go.’ Like I said, if they were all like Michael, you wouldn’t need us around, except maybe to point them in the right direction.”
Would Bowden, I asked, ever verbalize his desire to stay in the game?
“He don’t say boo,” Beyeler said. “He’s a very quiet kid. He just smiles and has fun and jokes. He’s a great kid. But when it’s his time to pitch or he’s punching the clock, when he’s working, he’s working. He reminds me a lot, when I was coming up as a player, I was coming up with Travis Fryman. Travis was on a mission. Travis was going to play in the big leagues. He didn’t go out. He didn’t run around. He didn’t do all this stuff everybody else did. He was, ‘Hey, I’ll talk to you guys in five years, and I’ll buy your dinner and buy your beer then. Because I’ll be making the big money and I’ll buy you whatever you want. Right now, I’m going right here. I’m going to the big leagues. I don’t care what you guys are doing, I’m going to the big leagues.’
“That’s kind of how Michael is. Michael is going to the big leagues. He doesn’t care about this or that, he doesn’t care what you’re doing, he doesn’t care what that guy’s doing. ‘What do I need to do? Give me your stuff. Help me, help me, help me, help me get where I need to be.’ You need to be careful what you tell him, because he’ll take it and run with it. If it’ll help him get an edge, he wants it.
“Boy, he’s got a lot of ability. He’s been a great worker. Michael is going to pitch in the big leagues. Whether you think he’s going to the big leagues or not, he is going to make himself a big leaguer. You know how guys talk – ‘Oh, this won’t play and that won’t play.’ Well, his makeup will get him to the big leagues. Now, whether you think his stuff plays there or whether you think he belongs there, I don’t know. We’ve seen that he belongs. How things turn out in the long run, who knows? But you know, Michael is where he wants to be. He’s getting a taste of that, it’s just going to drive him even more.
“People have all kinds of different opinions. Evaluate the kid all you want, he’s going to play in the big leagues because he’s going to make himself a big leaguer. All that other stuff, how he throws, that may separate him whether he’s an average big leaguer or an all-star or whether he’s going to go in the Hall of Fame. You hear about all these guys, the Clemenses and the Ryans and the Becketts and their work ethic, he’s right there. He’s that guy at our level. He’s got that drive, that motivation. I don’t know if you teach that. I don’t think that. If we could, we’d teach it to all these guys. We wouldn’t have a problem.”
Cather spun two stories that backed up Beyeler. Beyeler and Cather, sitting in the dugout during games Bowden pitched, “used to have conversations, and we used to laugh about it,” Cather said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, he’s got 15, 16 pitches left. Let’s send him back out.’ Arnie turned to me, he goes, ‘I don’t want to have to take this guy out of the game.’ I said, ‘Well, I think he’s going to get through it with less than 15 pitches.’ Then Arnie says, ‘Well then you take him out.’ And I was like, ‘Uh, OK, that’s it, he’s done.’
“Because he doesn’t want to come out. It’s awesome. I don’t know – you can’t teach that. That’s something that is innate to Michael Bowden. He will stop at nothing to achieve the things he’s set forth.
“All I know is, he was 21 years old, and he was shagging in the outfield. And somebody did something. They were joking around or something, and somebody did something with the fungo. And [Bowden] goes, ‘Hey!’ And the guy was like 25, 26. He just snapped into shape. He goes, ‘Yup, my bad.’ It was funny that he was the team leader. He was the alpha dog. Guys looked up to him. To get that out of a 21-year-old, how do you explain that? It’s hard enough gain the respect of elders so they don’t sit there and pick on you. No one’s going to pick on him, I can tell you that. To actually have people follow his lead is the sign of a true leader. And that’s what Michael Bowden was.”