Recovering from an injury and getting back on the field is never easy. Recovering from a string of injuries and returning to normal form is even more difficult. That, in short, has been Lynn native Ben Bowden’s mission this summer as he aims to make a name for himself in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system.
A left-handed reliever, Bowden played four years of varsity baseball at English High for former Bulldogs coach Joe Caponigro before committing to Division I Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. He was drafted by Colorado as the 45th overall selection of the 2016 MLB Draft.
“It was everything I worked for my entire life coming into one phone call,” said Bowden, 23. “I watched the draft on TV, but I got the phone call before. I was talking with my agent, working out a deal. That phone call was the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. I knew I had an incredible amount of work to do moving forward. All the work I put in and the work my parents dedicated to put me in that position, it was like the world’s biggest weight off my shoulders.”
Bowden suffered three separate injuries in 2017, starting with a pulled hamstring. He shook that off, but then suffered a shoulder injury shortly afterward. During the last bullpen session of his recovery process, Bowden injured his back.
A bulging disk forced Bowden to have surgery to repair the damage and sit out the 2017 season.
“It was torture,” Bowden said. “I spent most of my year in a hotel room, a lot of it by myself. I didn’t get to go home or anything. My mom came up for my back surgery but that was about it. Other than that, we had five or six guys at the field doing rehab in Arizona. I had my trainer, my strength coach, and our clubhouse guy, that was it.
“I thought I’d come back from the shoulder,” Bowden said, “but I blew out my back in my final bullpen before I threw live.”
Bowden spent the entire offseason getting himself back to 100 percent in hopes of taking the mound in 2018. He did just that and hasn’t missed a beat thus far.
Bowden started the season in Single-A Asheville (N.C.), where he posted a 3-0 record and a 3.52 ERA in 15 appearances. He was promoted to Single-A (advanced) Lancaster (Calif.), where he’s found a second home with the JetHawks.
In 27 appearances, Bowden is 4-2 with a 3.59 ERA and has tallied 41 strikeouts in 28⅓ innings pitched.
“There’s been a huge difference from Low-A to High-A,” Bowden said. “The ball flies here in the California League. You have to really figure out how to pitch down in the zone.”
The keys to his success in Lancaster, Bowden said, are using his offspeed pitches and keeping the ball down. Bowden’s four-pitch collection includes a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, and slider.
“When I first got here from Asheville I was getting blasted all over the yard,” Bowden said. “Any good barrel contact gets it out of the stadium. I got smacked around a bit when I first came here but I’m starting to figure out how to keep the ball down and use my offspeed pitches effectively.”
Bouncing back from last season’s injuries wasn’t easy but Bowden feels he’s at full-strength this year.
“I spent a short seven-day stint on the DL a couple weeks ago to give my back a little extra rest,” Bowden said. “It wasn’t hurting, but starting to bug me a bit. Other than that, I’ve stayed on top of things and I’m recovering well.”
Although he’s almost 3,000 miles away from home, Bowden still keeps in touch with family and friends in Lynn. Last week he learned that Caponigro, who coached at English for 14 seasons, had been named the new head baseball coach at Swampscott High.
“He’s done a good job keeping up with me,” Bowden said. “My parents sent me some pictures of newspaper articles on him. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be a little weird seeing him in blue and white but I’m happy for him. I’m sure it’s something he’s always wanted.
“I do my best to stay in touch. I talk to my best friend, Matt Merritt, at least once or twice a week. I keep in touch with my family. If somebody messages me from home, I keep in touch with them. It’s tough with the time change on the West Coast. By the time I’m getting out of bed people back home are already at work. It’ll be nice to get home in the offseason and catch up with some people.”
Bowden’s efforts out of Lancaster’s bullpen have helped the JetHawks to a 30-20 record. Lancaster is in second place in the California League South Division standings, six games behind the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate).
All in all, Bowden believes things are going well for him with Lancaster.
“The people at our games are nice,” Bowden said. “We have some loyal fans out here. It’s been easy adjusting. Everyone’s courteous and welcoming.
“We’re playing good baseball right now,” Bowden said. “I’m happy, I like being around the guys. The team’s happy. All is well.”