Stellar Vanderbilt pitching began with Sowers

April 16, 2014

Commodore History Corner Archive

Vanderbilt baseball has been blessed with reliable starting pitching in recent years. That partial list includes Jensen Lewis, David Price, Casey Weathers, Mike Minor, Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin and Tyler Beede. But the guy that seemed to have started that trend in the Tim Corbin-era was Jeremy Sowers (2002-04).

"I would give 99 percent of that credit to (former Vanderbilt pitching coach) Derek Johnson," Sowers said recently. "The one thing DJ is incredibly good at is individualizing every pitcher. He is somewhat a perfectionist and has the desire to make us better players. It was the individual contact working one-on-one letting us know what is takes to be a successful pitcher.

"I was able to retain that and make those adjustments that made me improve. I think my success at Vanderbilt helped eliminate fear somebody might have about going to an untested school like Vanderbilt versus LSU or (South Carolina) that is continually good. They saw if I could be a successful pitcher at Vanderbilt so can any other high school prospect."

Sowers was raised in Louisville and was a star pitcher at Ballard High School, where he tossed four no-hitters his last two seasons. As a senior, Sowers was named all-state, Mr. Kentucky Baseball, Baseball America's National High School All-American and the Kentucky High School Coaches Association Athlete of the Year. The Reds selected him out of Ballard with the 20th overall selection in the 2001 Major League draft.

In choosing a college to extend his baseball career, the left-hander chose Vanderbilt over Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Duke to play in the strong SEC and be closer to home. At this time, Roy Mewbourne was the head coach of Vanderbilt. It turned out to be Mewbourne's final year coaching at Vanderbilt.

"(Vanderbilt assistant coach) Scott Stricklin did most of my recruiting," Sowers said. "I was very impressed with him not taking anything away from Coach Mewbourne. The thing that impressed me the most about Vanderbilt you could sense there was a direction that they wanted to go. We were not doing very well in those years leading up to my first year.

"The new stadium was being built. Coach Mewbourne was doing a wonderful job with upgrading the baseball program. I felt that all the sports at Vanderbilt were going to make a transition to improve the quality of athletics. My gut told me this was the right place and there was some momentum.

"It was not easy to turn down Cincinnati. It was about where I was as an 18-year-old maturity-wise. The phrase I used to say back then, `I was mature enough to know that I was not mature enough.' I felt like if I had not gone to Vanderbilt, and honored my commitment there, I would be missing out on the college experience.

"I felt like I would be skipping something. Obviously hindsight being 20-20 it was a great decision. I got drafted three years later and had a wonderful experience at Vanderbilt. I got three years closer to a degree. I believed that I could compete right away at Vanderbilt, get playing time and develop as a player."

As a freshman, Sowers stood at 6-foot-5. He led the Commodores in victories and was named a First Team Freshman All-American. Sowers appeared in 15 games and made 13 starts. He pitched 101 innings, struck out 85, tossed one shutout and had two saves with a 4.37 ERA. As a team, the Commodores went 24-27 and 7-21 in the SEC.

"It was a tough season," Sowers said. "However, we made some good strides in the sense we had a pretty good group of guys. There was some legitimate talent in there, but there was a lack of depth. If you look at what Vanderbilt rolls out now in terms of pitchers, every pitcher they run out there throws at least 92 to 93 miles per hour. That would have been the hardest thrower on our team my first season.

"In terms of top to bottom there was a separation. For me personally it was challenging. I had the opportunity to jump into the fire pitching on Friday nights. It eventually turned into Sunday afternoons. I had the opportunity to face really tough competition. I might have been overmatched part of the time.

"I was inexperienced at that point, but Coach Johnson was extremely patient with me, especially with my frustration getting knocked around by Georgia, LSU and Mississippi. I learned the hard way by going in there and failing and learning how to deal with that failure so that the second time around I was a more mature and a better pitcher. Those hard knocks definitely helped."

After that season, Mewbourne retired as Vanderbilt's head baseball coach. Mewbourne (1979-2002) coached at Vanderbilt for 24 years and accumulated a record of 655-609-9, which ranks first all-time. Tim Corbin, an assistant coach at Clemson, replaced him.

Sowers"You could sense that Coach Mewbourne's time was coming to an end," Sowers said. "It didn't catch anybody off-guard. We were obviously interested in who they chose to replace him. When Tim Corbin's name came up the only thing I knew he was from Clemson. There's not much information out there about assistant coaches.

"We knew that with Clemson he had a good pedigree with a successful program. He was clearly ready to take the next step. The first thing he did was to call me while I was in Cape Cod during the summer. He wanted to reiterate to me that the program would be successful and I was an integral part of that success. It never crossed my mind that I was going anywhere else and transferring. I made my commitment to Vanderbilt and was going to stay regardless.

"I take pride in the development part of making a team better as opposed to be handed a great team. I think at the time the (athletic director), Todd Turner, picked a gem in Coach Corbin. On day one we started becoming a different program from a mental prospective. Honestly, the years I spent under Corbin are the most significant two years I ever had with baseball and the three years I had with Derek Johnson."

Vanderbilt improved in Sowers' sophomore season with a record of 27-28 and a 14-16 mark in SEC play. Sowers was 7-5, again leading the pitching staff in victories. He made 18 appearances and 16 starts, had a 2.50 ERA in 115 innings pitched and 123 strikeouts. Sowers was selected as Second Team All-SEC.

"If you break that season apart we nearly had a .500 record in the SEC," Sowers said. "It was in the second half of the year we figured it out as a team we were coming together and who we were. We understood the mental toughness we had gone through in the fall with the hard workouts.

"One day we had about five inches of snow in Nashville. We all thought we were going to have the day off from baseball because we could not get on the field. Coach Corbin had us essentially shovel five inches off the infield. Those were the expectations he laid upon us. We started to realize how significant that was. That season Florida came up to play us and the weather was horrible. It was cold and rainy. I remember on Sunday (Ryan) Mullins was pitching and water was dripping off our hats. You could tell Florida didn't want to be there and wanted to leave as soon as possible. They wanted to get back to Florida where it was warm.

"On the flip side our team was excited to be there. We ended up taking the series from them. They were a very good Florida team and we were a mediocre Vanderbilt team. That was an indication of the direction that we had turned. All of a sudden a light bulb went off and we understood why we did everything with all those crazy fall workouts. That made us a stronger team and we felt when we took the field we deserved to win."

For the third straight season, Sowers led Commodore pitching with a 10-6 record. Sowers' ERA was 3.08 in 19 appearances. He made17 starts and pitched 122.2 innings and had 119 strikeouts. Again he was selected as Second Team All-SEC, Third Team All-American and All-South Region. The Commodores established a then-school record for wins by posting a 45-19 and went 16-14 in SEC.

Vanderbilt made history that season. The Commodores were runners-up in the SEC Tournament and went to a regional for the first time since 1980. In the Charlottesville Regional, Vanderbilt defeated George Mason, Princeton and Virginia for the school's first regional championship. The first ever trip to a Super Regional was disappointing. Texas swept the Commodores in two games in Austin, Texas.

"We went into that junior season with the momentum thinking we were a good team and deserved to be a good team," Sowers said. "We were getting more talent. Guys were getting older. Warner (Jones) was going from his freshman to sophomore year. Jensen Lewis, Matt Buschmann, Ryan Klosterman were returning talent. The biggest difference between 2003 and 2004 was what we did in the non-conference. We just lost one of those games. That separated that won-loss differential to put you in a position to win 45 games instead of 30 wins.

"We were disappointed that we had to go to Charlottesville to play the regional, but we were ready for the opportunity. We had momentum being successful in the SEC Tournament. I thought we played incredibly good baseball in that regional considering we were all there for the first time with no experience. Once again that was Coach Corbin having us prepared.

"Unfortunately we couldn't carry that momentum to the Super Regional. We ran into a team in Texas that made short work of us over the weekend. We understood what Vanderbilt baseball was capable of as we were laying the ground work for continued success. We gave an appeal for recruits to come in there and play wonderful baseball in the best conference and get an education at Vanderbilt."

Sowers said his favorite moment as a Vanderbilt player had nothing to do with his own individual accomplishments.

"My favorite moment as a baseball player took place when I was sitting in the dugout watching," said Sowers. "It showed how much that team mattered and how much the program mattered versus any individual achievement I accomplished. It was when Worth Scott hit the walk-off home run against (Luke) Hochevar of Tennessee. There were so many parts about that. You could see things he had done in the past.

"The play before Worth hit the home run, Warner Jones made a really good slide into second base to break up a double play. It was a nice takeout play of the shortstop. It would have ended the game. Worth at the time had been struggling and batting under .200. He was a junior that persevered. Coach Corbin could have pinch hit for him, but he saw the potential in that situation for Worth to be successful.

"Hochevar was only a freshman at the time, but was pretty damn good. Scott found the pitch in the right spot, put the bat on it and kept it inside the foul pole. It was probably the most exciting time in my life as a baseball player."

Worth's walk-off home run in the 2003 regular-season finale propelled Vanderbilt into the SEC Tournament for the first since 1996. A defeat to the Vols would have kept the Commodores from extending their season.

Sowers would not return to Vanderbilt for his senior season. The Cleveland Indians selected him as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2004 Major League Draft. Being a successful left-handed pitcher, Sowers knew he would demand attention from the major leagues.

"The circumstances in the draft are always unpredictable," Sowers said. "I knew where I stood as far as left-handed college pitchers. There was a lot of talent out there especially with Rice with Wayne Townsend, Jeff Niemann and Phil Humber. There were some very good hitters out there also. You couldn't really tell when things were going to fall into place. All I knew that the previous relationships I had with the Reds, Indians or Braves - I knew who liked me more than others so I could speculate.

"That time of the draft we had just arrived back from UVA in the regional tournament. We arrived very early in the morning. Everybody was tired. I drove over to my house to get the broadcast on the Internet. It was like a conference call back then where they rattled off the draft picks. I turned it on just in time to hear my name as the sixth pick. It was really exciting. I just hoped a team had a good impression of me and wanted to take a chance on me. I was grateful that the Indians did that."

Sowers career numbers at Vanderbilt include 52 game appearances (46 starts) with a 23-16 record (fifth-most wins in school history) and a 3.27 ERA. He fanned 327 batters (third-most) in 338.2 innings (second-most).

Negotiations for signing a major league contract with Cleveland were slow. Sowers did not sign until August 2004. At this time the Aug. 1 deadline for signing draft selections did not exist.

"I had already logged 120-something innings," said Sowers. "A lot of time with college pitchers they try to temper your workload the rest of the year. If a guy does sign early he tends to pitch only a handful of innings. My negotiation process took a little bit longer than average. I think the one thing I was surprised about was the timetable for negotiation.

"I was under the impression it was going to be like here are we, this is what we think and they come back to you. You go back to them and it happens pretty fast. That wasn't the case. Everything was stretched out. We gave them something on Monday and they got back to you on Friday. Then you get back to them the next Wednesday. That went into the summer months.

"That summer was boring for me because it was a waiting game. If I had signed early I wouldn't have pitched much more. After I signed I went to instructional ball that fall and met my teammates. I worked with some of the coaches and prepared for the season. Then I went to early camp in the first part of February."

Sowers moved quickly through the Indians' minor league system, starting in Single-A Kingston and Double-A Akron. He complied a combined 13-4 record and a 2.40 ERA. Sowers did make one appearance in Triple-A Buffalo, where he picked up a victory.

For that season's effort Sowers was named the Indians' Minor League Pitcher of the Year (Bob Feller Award) for 2005. Sowers was also given the Indians' Minor League Player of the Year Award (Lou Boudreau Award).

"Obviously success breeds confidence," Sowers said. "To say I had 30-odd great starts would be far from the truth. But, what I was able to do was be consistent in throwing strikes. If you have a bad outing you follow that with three or four good outings. I split half the year in Kingston and Akron with one spot start in Buffalo. Buffalo needed one guy to pitch so I flew up there on the first day of September just be a body and give them five innings.

"It was a nice taste of Triple-A baseball for 36 hours. I had the opportunity to go to the Double-A playoffs with Akron and beat Portland to win the championship, which was my only championship in pro ball. At the time it was hard to understand the importance of it, but in hindsight it was a very significant part of my career. I had good pitching coaches at both levels in Steve Lyons (Kingston) and Greg Hibbard (Akron). Despite being successful neither of them let me get overly complacent with myself. They were always trying to find a way to continue and progress my game and learn new pitches.

"Greg Hibbard was actually very influential on getting me to throw a changeup differently that became one of my best pitches. While it was a season that was very consistent, I wouldn't call it great in the sense that I had a good supporting cast around me. I had run support, which every pitcher will tell you is the greatest thing to have. It was a great atmosphere to learn and develop as a pitcher."

Sowers began the 2006 season in Buffalo and blistered the opposing batters gaining a 9-1 start with a 1.39 ERA. Cleveland took notice and promoted the 23-year-old to the big leagues. He was pitching in Buffalo when his coach said his next pitching start would be with Cleveland.

"I knew there was a very good chance I would be called up at some point," Sowers said. "It was a nerve-racking process because the only game you need to focus on is the next one you have to pitch. I had to worry about getting my stuff together; getting on a plane and going some place I wasn't familiar. There were scouting reports and meetings with coaches. I was lucky to get a taste of that in spring camp.

"I got to know some of my new teammates at that time. The one nice thing that Cleveland did was having a winter development program in January. They brought a handful of us to Cleveland for a few weeks essentially to get you comfortable with Jacobs Fields and the area. We worked out a little bit. When I showed up I knew where to walk into the clubhouse and the locker room."

Sowers made his major league debut in an interleague game against Cincinnati on June 25. He pitched five innings and took the loss. He gave up four earned runs, three strikeouts and two home runs.

"Your first outing is like an aberration regardless because there is so much at play with nerves and the culmination with your childhood dreams," Sowers said. "I did OK with my first start. There were two things I could have done better. Do not go 3-0 to Ken Griffey, Jr. and do not go 3-1 to Adam Dunn.

"They both hit home runs off me. It was at home and the crowd was very supportive. I had great teammates and coaching staff there. It was a start of a successful second half of the season despite having some tough outings. On our pitching staff were C.C. Sabathia, Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook. I got to be around some very savvy veterans that were role models."

So who were those first batters Sowers faced wearing an Indians' jersey in his first major league game?

"It was kind of sad to think about since it was Ryan Freel, who most recently passed away," said Sowers. "He was a very scrappy and successful baseball player. He hit a soft line out to second base. There are two moments that settle you down. One is making the first pitch and realizing I've done this before, but also making a bad pitch and getting a good result.

"As human beings we look at professional athletes as embodiments of their sport. You look on Sportscenter and Albert Pujols isn't popping out to second base. He's hitting home runs. There is that persona that they carry like the Babe Ruths or Willie Mays. You don't remember the strikeouts, but the great things they did. Sometimes as a young pitcher you have to get over that hump to realize they are just normal people that make mistakes as everybody else.

"The second batter I faced was Brandon Phillips. I threw him a garbage change-up that was up in his eyes and he popped it up to left field. It wasn't a great pitch. At that moment you are thinking just settle down and throw strikes. That is a very tough thing to hold on to. But when it happens, it means a lot since you understand that human error is the element of the game that can be lost in the fold."

It would be July 4, 2006 at Cleveland's Jacobs Field when Sowers earned his first major league victory. Sowers pitched seven strong innings for the 5-2 milestone victory against the New York Yankees.

"That game could have gone south pretty fast because I had a rough first inning," he said. "Jason Giambi hit a two-run home run off me so we were trailing early. As a pitcher I had been there before giving up runs early. As a starter you know you have six or seven innings to straighten things out. It's about making sure you put your team in a position to win. You have Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and all those guys in the lineup.

"It can be nerve-racking, especially in your second start in the big leagues. I had a moment in the third or fourth inning where I had the bases loaded and two outs. Bernie Williams was batting. It was a big moment because if I didn't get him out to end the inning it could have blown up and gotten out of hand. I threw a really good slider to strike him out to get out of the jam.

"Then the next thing I know I carried another three innings, including getting a strikeout of Giambi after giving up that home run to him. Seven innings later it was like 4-2 and relievers came in to shut the door and we won. Getting your first win against arguable the greatest sports team ever is very significant. I was very proud of that for my first win."

A few weeks later, Sowers threw his first complete game shutout over the Twins, giving up four hits, walking one and striking out four. In his next start six days later, Sowers blanked the Mariners, 1-0. He gave up five hits, walked one and fanned three.

Sowers became the first Indians rookie to throw back-to-back shutouts since Dick Tidrow in 1972. A 22-inning scoreless streak was stopped against Boston when he allowed a fifth-inning RBI-double.

"One of the funny things about a win streak every athlete will attest that you are in the zone," Sowers said. "Everything was going in my favor. I was making good pitches and getting good results. I was very fluid and everything made sense. I never had to stop and question the pitches I'd thrown or ask what the heck just happened. It was one of those things where you were playing the best baseball of your career, but also receiving great run support, great defense and a little bit of luck.

"You can pitch awesome and the stats might not show it, but in this case I was pitching awesome and the stat line was showing. There is nothing easy about pitching in the major leagues, but at that moment it wasn't hard for me to do that. The hardest part is when you make your pitch and things go the wrong way. Then you have to figure out how to get back to that other side. When luck is involved, when defense is involved, when uncontrollable things are involved it can be very challenging mentally to do so."

Sowers was not an overpowering left-handed pitcher and strikeouts were not prevalent in his stat sheets.

"I was never one to wow anyone with velocity," Sowers said. "I think any left-handed pitcher that doesn't throw super hard is automatically chalked up to be like Tom Glavine. I never thought of myself that way. Mostly because I didn't think it was fair to Tom Glavine to be compared to me. As a pitcher, I was fairly aggressive with my fastball for a lefty that throws only 89-90 (miles per hour). I had a little bit of a deception with my delivery. I was able to command my off-speed pitches to the point where if I could command a change-up that the batter had to respect.

"An 89-mile per hour fastball can turn into a 93-mile per hour fastball because he can't sit on it. I was able to be a power pitcher though I didn't strike guys out because I was able to command my off-speed stuff. I liked throwing inside and attacking hitters. In my first start in Triple-A, the pitching coach said all that stuff that worked in Single-A and Double-A throwing pitches out of the strike zone for batters to chase doesn't work. Just throw strikes and get outs. From that moment on it was about attacking the strike zone - forcing early contact.

"As a pitcher I threw primarily a two-seam or four-seam fastball. I had a changeup and a breaking ball. My changeup was definitely my second-best pitch. Any pitcher that tells you, unless he has a gimmick, that a fastball isn't his best pitch is probably not that good. The fastball should be every pitcher's best pitch. I had a breaking ball that wasn't that great. It was a factor at times."

At the end of Sowers' rookie season, he was 7-4 in 14 starts with a 3.57 ERA with two shutouts in 88.1 innings pitched. Sowers gave up 85 hits with 35 strikeouts.

"There might have been a little bit of hubris in there," he said. "When most players get to "The Show" they are able to ring off a significant stretch of time that they were successful. I started out 1-4, and then rolled off six straight wins. I think there can be a little bit of overconfidence like this isn't that hard. I was 23 and had success. I didn't work any harder or was any less prepared, but I thought I had it figured out a little bit too early. The following season things became to tilt in the wrong direction.

"From then on I had trouble trying to make those confident adjustments. You learn really fast at that level its not that you can't make bad pitches or have bad starts you just can't let that stuff turn into a streak. That's the biggest difference between the best players in the game and the average players. To keep winning streaks long and losing streaks short. C.C. Sabathia was probably the best person I saw at being able to do that. He could look horrible in the first inning and you are thinking this is going to be a long game. Then you blink your eyes and it's the seventh inning and he's winning 3-2. I had a wonderful, successful rookie season. In 2006, that was the best baseball year performance-wise in my career. I wasn't arrogant about it.

"I did have this false sense of confidence. I think there was a slight bit of complicity thinking I had it figured out. And that was simply the inevitability at some point baseball will tell you you don't have it figured out. It's going to be a challenge to re-learn the game when something has proven you wrong. That was the biggest challenge for me as a professional player."

The next season, Sowers became the Indians' third starter after Cliff Lee was injured in spring training. After 12 starts and a 1-6 record, Sowers was sent back to Buffalo for the rest of the year.

"It was a very tough time," said Sowers. "I had some decent starts peppered in with all that. It was one of those deals where I would put in five innings of good baseball and have one bad inning or one bad situation that knocked everything down. The one really big thing about pitching in baseball there is no time limit. If a hitter has a bad game or has a bad at-bat and he is 0-for-1 and goes back to the dugout.

"If I go five scoreless innings to start a game, then in the sixth inning I give up four runs because I made two bad pitches, it makes the start as a whole look terrible. Which comes first--success or confidence? I'd have these moments where I'd have a little bit of success and have confidence. Then there would be failure that knocks it down. At some point I did actually start hurting my shoulder. I don't know when exactly that was so I can't use that as a scapegoat for failure.

"It is a very complex and challenging game especially for a pitcher. If I make a great pitch and a guy hits a pop up that falls in front of my right fielder, part of me feels like I failed. He is standing on first base and I don't have an out. From a process standpoint I did everything right, but from a result standpoint it told me I didn't. It is hard to detach yourself from that.

"On the flip side if I make a terrible pitch and the guy hits the ball 130 miles per hour off the bat and it goes straight to my shortstop. He catches it and I did nothing right, but the results tell me I did. I still got the out. My stats were very bad that year. While they could have been better, they could have been worse. They were totally indicative of a pitcher that was just terrible. It was just a pitcher having trouble being consistent.

In 2008, Sowers split time with Buffalo and Cleveland. He was 4-9 with the Indians with a 5.48 ERA in 22 starts and 121 innings pitched. Sowers was 4-3 with a 2.08 ERA in Buffalo in 10 starts and 60.2 innings pitched.

"It was at this time I realized that my arm did not have the same life anymore," Sowers said. "I speculate at some point my shoulder started tearing a little bit. Although I didn't feel terrible, it was a rotator cuff muscle that was tearing. Any slight tear destabilizes that muscle. As a guy throwing 88-89 with a destabilized shoulder it is harder to be accurate and pinpoint if you will. Now instead of being an 88-89 mile per hour guy that could spot very well, I was an 89-mile per hour guy that could not spot very well.

"I did not know about the tear until that year had ended going into the next season. It's one of those things because there is such a difference between soreness and damage to your shoulder. It's baseball, a sport you play everyday and exhausting over the course of time. Your arm is going to be tired in September. It's like I'm a little sore today so get in the whirlpool, put on some icy hot, get a message and take some Advil. There are things you can do maintenance wise to get you through it.

"Pitching is a debilitating process. If you look at Nolan Ryan's MRI versus a regular person's MRI it's like a joke with how bad his was. He was such a strong willed freak of nature. He was able to overcome that stuff without losing his ability. For me the threshold level was different. When that tear got to a certain point I wasn't the same pitcher and my mechanics suffered from it. It was occurring over time and tough to pinpoint and diagnose over time. It was not a lot different from fatigue."

In 2009, Sowers again split time with Cleveland and Triple-A (Columbus). In Cleveland he was 6-11 in 23 games (22 starts) with a 5.25 ERA with 134 innings pitched. Sowers was 2-2 with six starts in Columbus.

Sowers was dropped from the Indians' 40-man roster after that season. In 2010, he was back in Columbus appearing in 27 games (four starts) mostly in a relief role. In August he was placed on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and did not play the rest of the season. In February 2011, Sowers had surgery to repair a tear in his left rotator cuff. His major league career had ended.

"It was to the point I had been diagnosed with the MRI and we tried cortisone injections and the pain went away at least for a couple of months," he said. "I still was not stable. It still hurt to throw. Shoulders are something you never want to have surgery on. It is such a complex area as opposed to the elbow. Recovery from Tommy John surgery can be 50 per cent. You can see it with some of the other cases. Johan Santana has trouble coming back from his surgery. There are plenty of other pitchers that had trouble coming back.

"I knew I could not be a major league pitcher in the current state I was. I knew that I didn't want to make my arm sore just by lifting a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator. And I didn't want to take Advil to prevent that. I wanted to take my chances with surgery. Dr. Mark Schickendantz of Cleveland did the surgery and I did the rehab the best I could. It just wasn't in the cards for me to get my velocity back. I was able to pitch for a couple of months with an independent team [Southern Maryland] in the Atlantic League. I just wasn't able to get the velocity with the scar tissue and that stuff.

"You'd like to think you are going to be perpetually healthy, but at age 27 I was invincible and at age 28 I was not healthy to pitch. I feel great now and I'm glad I had the surgery. I'm out of baseball. I can't throw a baseball 90 miles per hour anymore. The silver lining of that whole thing was I was able to rehab at home. My daughter was born six months after my surgery. I was able to be a stay at home dad for the first years of her life where most people do no not have that privilege."

Most pitchers like to boast about their plate appearances as a big league batter. Sowers is no different since as an American League batter, the designated hitter rule was in effect for all of his career except for interleague games. Sowers was officially 1-for-4 at the plate with two walks. That was a modest .250 average, but outstanding for a big league pitcher.

"The only thing I openly brag about is how you hit in the major leagues. It's like nothing else," Sowers said. "My hit came in an interleague game against (Reds pitcher) Matt Belisle. I was told basically in college you are a pitcher and you don't hit anymore. I hadn't hit since high school. Off Belisle, I hit a crappy ground ball up the middle that was placed just right."

Sowers' four-year major league career totals include an 18-30 record, 72 games (71 starts) and a 5.18 ERA. He pitched 400 innings, struck out 174 batters and collected two shutouts.

During the 2005-06 offseason, Sowers was granted permission by the Indians to return to Vanderbilt and complete his undergraduate degree in political science. Sowers is currently pursuing a masters degree in business at the University of North Carolina. He plans on taking an internship this summer in strategy in finance to see if that's what he'd like to do in advancing his career. Sowers is also considering an attempt to get back into baseball in the front office.

Sowers said he does not regret anything about his baseball past nor wishes he was still on the field, but misses the camaraderie of his teammates. He is ready to "move forward and define myself beyond being a baseball player." Sowers is married to the former Ashley Duffy, a former Vanderbilt soccer player. The couple has a 2-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, who is "full of never-ending energy."

Vanderbilt's Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013 was announced on July 22, 2013. Sowers was one seven former Commodore student/athletes selected for this honor. This group was added to the 40 athletes previously enshrined. Sowers was in attendance when this Hall of Fame class was formerly recognized at halftime of the Sept. 7, 2013 football game against Austin Peay.

"The mere chance to get back there and accept something more or less on behalf of Vanderbilt baseball was special," Sowers said. "I just happened to be the right person in the right place and the right time. We had some other wonderful talent around me that enabled us to be good. It wasn't just the 13 games I started every year that gave us success. It was the coaching staff like Coach Corbin to get us focused to become the most mentally strong team in the SEC and turning the ship, no pun intended about the Commodore thing, around making a name for Vanderbilt as a place to be for premiere baseball.

"It was fun to go back there and get in that bubble again. The stretches of time away from there are too long. The beautiful thing about baseball relationships when the season ends basically everyone goes in different directions. Then six months later we get back together. The value of those relations did not diminish one bit. I cannot see a teammate for seven or eight years without picking up where we left off. That's what baseball does. Those relationships at Vanderbilt are ultimately what mattered. I was just grateful I could represent the team for that dinner and induction."

If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email



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