For local product John Bowker, the future looks bright. Hell, it's his middle name, as in "Brite,"

which he inherited from his father (Brite Bowker). Although, if you were to ask the native Sacramentan after last night's loss at Raley Field, he may not be so encouraged.  

Bowker took a rare 0-5 for the extra-inning affair, and left the plate mumbling to himself after striking out in the ninth with a runner on second. Which may have been due, in part, to his role in a misplayed fly ball in center field the inning before. 

In the bottom of the eighth, with the Grizzlies holding a 3-2 lead, RiverCats' Steve Tolleson hit a long drive to deep left center. Center fielder Eugenio Velez, whose long, lean body type would blend perfectly on planet Pandora, easily would have made the catch. But Bowker, the left fielder, and Velez arrived simultaneously, their gloves stretched across their bodies, effectively canceling each other, while the ball dropped to the warning track. As Velez picked up the ball beneath the retired Number One jersey on the outfield fence, it seemed that Art Savage had provided a heavenly assist. Savage, the RiverCats former team owner, passed away last fall and  the team honored him with the retired jersey on the wall. 

Official scorer Mark Honbo hustled to the press box video monitor, and after studying two super slow motion replays, ruled it a triple for Tolleson. "If that's an error, who do I give it to?" Honbo wondered aloud. One batter later, Matt Watson drove in the tying run.  

Moments after the outfield misplay, Bowker came to bat and had an embarrassing three-pitch strikeout, missing an off-speed pitch down and away. 

Bowker says his approach is to play each game "one pitch at a time, being 'in the present' all the time." He admits it's a challenge, especially when "you're out there thinking of past failures, or even successes, which can take your focus away from seeing that pitch or seeing the ball in the outfield." In a pre-game interview, he seemed to have a premonition of the play in the eighth inning.

Bowker admitted that he needs work more on his outfield play. But he was sent down by the Giants this spring to make room for Pat Burrell, a journeyman slugging outfielder, and to work on hitting lefties. 

Grizzlies' skipper Steve Decker is high on Bowker, who led the Pacific Coast League last season with a .342 average, 21 home runs and 82 runs batted in. Bowker, who was sent down to Fresno in late May, needs to get some at bats, relax, and learn how to add to his hitting arsenal. "You don't always need a home run to win the game. Sometimes, you need to take the ball the other way." 

Before the game, Grizzlies' batting coach Ken Joyce was working with Bowker in the cage, trying to get him to incorporate a more fluid approach in his backswing. One of the other Grizzlies players, waiting his turn, asked about RiverCats' starter John Halama's style. "Slow, slower and pfftttt," Joyce responded. He advised Bowker to "stay back" against the 38-year-old pitcher. "He's not going to beat you," he said, referring to the crafty lefty's velocity. 

Despite the forewarning and preparation, Halama, and the rest of the RiverCats staff, served Bowker nothing but pfftttt, frustrating the young hitter all night. Although it won't go down as a memorable game, it was a learning experience. Bowker admits he's back in the Pacific Coast League to improve on his overall consistency.

Decker, who played his last year of pro ball in 2000 for Sacramento, complimented Bowker on having a great work ethic. It shows: his shoulders and forearms looks like he's been working in the Pennsylvania coal mines instead of the minor leagues. It comes from a regimented off-season routine he's learned over time from local trainers and the Giants staff. 

A three-sport athlete at Rio Americano, in his senior season John set a school record by hitting .463, with eight home runs and 41 RBI. Yet, those stats only earned him a spot on the second team All-City roster in 2001. He attributes it in part to playing for a school not known for its baseball program, and notes that other players like Dustin Pedroia and J.P. Howell--both stars now in the major leagues--grabbed a huge amount of attention in Sacramento. But the self-effacing Sacramentan isn't one to complain or offer excuses.

Even Grizzly teammate veteran catcher Steve Holm enjoys hometown bragging rights when it comes to post season accolades. Holm was named first team All-City twice at McClatchy High (1996 and 1997). Bowker was surprised to learn that a number of local talents didn't make All-City and went on to illustrious careers, such as Larry Bowa, Chris Bosio and another long-time player who shares his initials, Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker. 

After high school, Bowker batted .323 in three seasons at Long Beach State, earning a trip to the super regional tournament, where he hit a home run. The Giants drafted him in the third round of the 2004 first-year player draft. "They really stress the fundamentals there (Long Beach State) and coming in to pro ball, I thought I was ahead of lot of guys." 


After an impressive rookie year with the Giants in 2008 when he hit .255/10/43 in 110 games, he had fewer opportunities last year and his numbers declined. This spring, Bowker broke training camp with the Giants as the starting right fielder. It wasn't long before Nate Schierholtz secured the spot, shoving Bowker to the bench. When the Giants signed Burrell in May, and brought up Buster Posey to play first base, it left a plethora of outfielders, and Bowker was sent packing to Fresno. 

One positive bit of news came this week when the Giants traded catcher Bengie Molina to Texas. This gave Posey the primary catching job, moved Aubrey Huff back to first, and left four outfielders in San Francisco. 

One long-time RiverCats official groused if the Giants don't plan to use him, they should do Bowker a favor and trade him to a club that needs a solid gap-to-gap hitter.  

Either way, Bowker remains cautiously optimistic. He's striving for consistency while waiting for his third chance at the major leagues. "If I keep working hard, things will work out," he offers.  

For that reason alone, his future looks bright. 

by Editor--Rick Cabral



Uploaded 07/03/10
content copyright Rick
Cabral 2010