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John Bowker Paying His Dues In Northwest League


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Welcome to Dirtbags Baseball blog! I was introduced to Long Beach State baseball in 2002 when my nephew, Neil Jamison, joined the team (and university) as a freshman. I started the blog in March of 2004, and generally discuss the team, current players and those that have moved on to professional baseball - as Neil has done in the San Diego Padres organization. Living in San Diego County, and with Neil moving to the next level, I won't be attending as many Dirtbags games. But, mostly from a distance, I'll remain a Dirtbags fan. I welcome tips on stories and information concerning the Dirtbags (current, past and future). I can be contacted at


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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

John Bowker Paying His Dues In Northwest League

Below are excerpts from an article here in the The entire article is well worth reading.

"'Where dreams begin'

By Eric Gilmore


KEIZER, Ore. - The sun had yet to rise when the Vancouver Canadians gathered in darkness at their stadium on the morning of Aug. 5, boarded a chartered bus and headed south toward Oregon.

Nearly eight hours later, these A's minor-leaguers arrived at their Salem, Ore., hotel, 50 miles south of Portland. They had just enough time to check in, grab some fast food and maybe catch a quick nap.

By 2:30 that afternoon, they were back on the bus. After a short drive north, they arrived at Volcanoes Stadium here for that night's game against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a Giants farm club.

There was still time for three hours of pregame stretching, hitting and fielding practice. Then came an agonizing 4-3 loss to the Volcanoes.

Finally, some 17 hours after it began, their workday was over.

"It's all part of the grind," said Canadians catcher Kurt Suzuki, a second-round pick in this year's June draft, standing outside his team's clubhouse. "You've got to pay your dues to get to the top.

"I'm a little tired, but this is my dream."

On the Volcanoes Web site, a fitting line streams across the home page in bold orange letters: "Where Giant Dreams Begin."

The short-season Single-A Northwest League is where most of the Giants and A's college draft picks begin their major league quests, their transition from amateur to pro baseball....

The Giants didn't have a first-round pick this year, but outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve, a second-rounder from Florida State, made a brief stop at Salem-Keizer before being promoted to Single-A Hagerstown earlier this month.

Outfielder John Bowker, a third-round pick from Long Beach State, plays for Salem-Keizer. ...

One crack-of-dawn bus trip or broken bat -- aluminum is out in pro ball, wood is in -- is enough to let these prospects know they're not amateurs anymore.

Yet their transition to professional baseball involves more than mastering the art of catching zees while traveling throughout the Northwest on a bus or learning the difference between maple and ash bats.

There are hurdles to clear on and off the field. This is the start of a weeding out process that claims all but the best as its victims.

"It's about more than being good enough to play," Giants director of player development Jack Hiatt said from his home in Coquille, Ore. "You physically have to make it there. Emotionally you have to make it.

"You have to be tough. It's survival of the fittest. For every player that makes it, there are some slaughtered bodies along the trail."

The June draft stretched 50 rounds, and 1,498 players were chosen. Most of those players will never wear a major-league uniform....

Pecking order

Salem-Keizer is one of six Giants minor league teams.

The lowest rung is their Arizona (Rookie) League team based in Scottsdale. Salem-Keizer sits one step higher. Then it's Single-A Hagerstown, Single-A San Jose, Double-A Norwich and Triple-A Fresno....

The Northwest League is a huge step up from the Arizona League, but it's hardly a glamorous existence.

Players earn around $900 a month. Most players live with host families that volunteer to house and feed them at a bargain price. Volcanoes players pay $200 per month.

For many players, that option helps them make ends meet. Even players with big bonuses enjoy the convenience of a ready-made home....

Bowker grew up in Sacramento, a lifelong Giants fan. He said it was a "dream come true" when the Giants drafted him. After a short stop in the Arizona League, he jumped to Salem-Keizer.

"I just go out and play my best," Bowker said. "Whatever happens, happens."

The climb to the majors is typically hard and long. Yet there are plenty of examples, especially on the A's, of players who made quick trips to the big leagues.

Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Rich Harden, Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito are home-grown A's who spent three or fewer years in the minors.

"They have a reputation for doing that," Michael Rogers said. "That's great for us."

Robnett said he's done his "homework" about the A's.

"They're not afraid to push somebody up," he said. "They're not going to hold back. That's good."

The Giants have a history of trading many of their top picks for veterans. Yet even the Giants offer some inspirational examples for the Volcanoes.

Pitcher Noah Lowry started his pro career in 2001 with Salem-Keizer. Now he's a rookie sensation for the Giants.

Pitcher Jesse Foppert, a second-round pick now recovering from Tommy John surgery, went from Salem-Keizer in 2001 to the Giants in 2003. Pitcher Brad Hennessey, a first-round pick in 2001, was called up to the Giants this month. Joe Nathan, who pitched for the Volcanoes in 1997 and jumped to the Giants in 1999, made the American League All-Star team this year with the Minnesota Twins.

"I know my goal was to be in San Jose the next year, skip a level," Foppert said, recalling his season with Salem-Keizer. "I wasn't even thinking about being in the big leagues a year later."

Foppert spent 2002 at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, then joined the Giants rotation early in the '03 season.

"You never know," Suzuki said. "You just have to keep your eye on the target, keep playing hard."

And keep dreaming."

posted on 8/18/2004 by Jeff Agnew

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