By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Unbelievable. Ridiculous. Crazy. Incomprehensible. Unfathomable. Amazing.
There is no shortage of words that could be used to describe the journey of Adam Loewen.
The 31-year-old has gone from being the highest Canadian-born player ever drafted and pitching in the big leagues at 22 years old, to giving up on his arm, picking up the bat, and returning to the majors as a hitter three years later, to now forcing his way back to the game’s highest level once again with his left arm, going seven years between taking the mound in a major league game.
“We’re all proud of him,” said Jeff Francis, a fellow southpaw from the west coast, drafted just five picks after Loewen 13 years ago. “He’s shown a lot of perseverance and he’s show that he’s a very, very talented individual…I’m sure he’s really happy. I mean, the amount of work he’s put in, the amount of things he’s been through, this is something that he’s definitely earned and he should be really proud of what he’s done.”
Said Chris Robinson, Loewen’s longtime Team Canada teammate: “I’m really excited. It’s great. Obviously he’s a great friend, but it’s great for baseball in Canada. It brings another positive story into the spotlight for Baseball Canada. This is a guy who is doing something that I doubt it’s ever been done, and he’s Canadian. That’s a really big deal and it’s beyond a neat story. It continues to cement Baseball Canada as being a pretty good gig.”
It was almost a decade-and-a-half ago when Robinson met Loewen for the first time, and the journey really started. They had both been added to the Canadian Junior National Team roster as high schoolers, where one of Loewen’s Team Canada highlights remains to be playing in the world junior championships in Edmonton and throwing in a comeback victory over Korea.
“I remember the first day I met him,” Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.) said. “I was his roommate on the Junior National Team and we were 17 years old. I remember talking to him about how he didn’t work out at all and I’m looking at him thinking, ‘This guy is jacked and he doesn’t even work out.’
“Then we were playing basketball inside the hotel and he was the best basketball player. Then the first day we showed up [at the field] for the scout day, obviously I knew him by reputation as a pitcher and then we run the 60 [yard dash] and he ran a 6.7 [second] 60. Then he gets in the batting cage and hits 10 homers in batting practice. I’m just like, I hate this guy.
“Then getting to know him and obviously spending so much time with him over the years, he is just an absolutely physical freak. You sit there and say this is unbelievable but it’s really not unbelievable. It’s just Loewen being Loewen. He’s just that physically gifted that it doesn’t surprise me. It’s a tremendous feat. It’s pretty ridiculous, but it doesn’t surprise me.”
It wasn’t long after that the left-handed hurler was selected as the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft out of Fraser Valley Christian High School in Surrey, BC by the Baltimore Orioles. He and Francis set foot in unprecedented territory when the elder southpaw was taken ninth by the Colorado Rockies out of the University of British Columbia.
“I knew Adam was [going to be selected high] of course,” Francis (North Delta, BC) said. “He and I were interviewed together a lot of times. We were the same story. That’s how I got to know him. When I met him the first time it was when we went to get our pictures taken or something. And then of course on draft day, our interviews were right across the street from each other so that we could meet up for photos. It was a big deal.”
Added Loewen: “Having him there, being three years older than me, and going through it with him – he was a really calming influence. All I remember are good things. It was exciting for me. At the time it was pretty awesome.”
Loewen went to Chipola Junior College after his selection, made in the draft-and-follow days, signing the following year and entering the professional realm. On May 23, 2006, he made his major league debut – the first of what could be three significantly different yet similar moments – against the Seattle Mariners, just a couple hours away from his hometown.
It was also during his rookie season in 2006 that Loewen would make his first plate appearance in the big leagues, getting two at-bats against the New York Mets in June during in interleague game.
But after elbow troubles made it seemingly impossible for the lefty and his prized arm to continue, Loewen picked up the bat again. He had always been an all-around talent, but even he doesn’t really know how the idea to seriously pursue hitting again came to fruition.
“That was a crazy decision,” he said. “I don’t know where I came up with the balls to do that.”
On September 7, 2011, more than five years following his big league debut, and just over three years after his last appearance in the majors, Loewen got his first chance at the dish. This time he was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, the team he had grown up rooting for. Now, the Canadian organization was the one watching and rooting for him.
“I loved swinging the bat,” Loewen said. “And playing for the team that I grew up watching was a dream come true. It really was.”
The left-handed hitter notched his first major league hit that day against the Boston Red Sox, a single to right field off of Daniel Bard in his third plate appearance of the day. He added five more to his total, including his first and only home run in the majors, coming four days later.
Loewen continued hitting for a couple more years in the minor leagues with the New York Mets and the Blue Jays, right into winter ball before last season began. That’s where Loewen realized that it probably wasn’t going to happen for him again, but why not see what the arm had to offer after lying relatively dormant for so many years?
As it turned out, Loewen the hurler was a changed man. The rest had done his arm a lot of good, and he wasn’t experiencing any of the pain or issues he had in his previous pitching go-round. Baseball Canada’s director of national teams Greg Hamilton helped Loewen gain some exposure – one of Hamilton’s specialties – and the southpaw signed with the Philadelphia Phillies organization in the summer.
Last season had mixed results for Loewen, who was keeping runs off the board but was still walking a few too many batters while he got used to the mound again, splitting time and flying under the radar between Class-A Advanced Clearwater and Double-A Reading.
This year, Loewen figured it out.
Between Triple-A Lehigh Valley and a short stint in Reading to work on his command, the lefty posted a 2.01 ERA over 40 games and 58 1/3 innings, allowing 39 hits, walking 37 and striking out 73 hitters. In his last 12 appearances for the IronPigs, Loewen has not allowed a single run in 15 1/3 frames, notching seven saves, allowing three hits and nine walks, and striking out 21.
“After seeing him pitch this year, a lot of the comments are, ‘No wonder he’s coming back from learning how to hit,’” Francis said. “I mean, he’s been electric. He’s had electric stuff. His numbers speak for themselves. I know our hitters don’t like facing him, so I’m sure he’ll be great for the Phillies.”
That’s certainly what the organization is hoping for, and no one who knows Loewen will be surprised, as unfathomable as his path to the big leagues – again – has been.
“He is one hell of an athlete,” Tyson Gillies (Vancouver, BC) said. “That dude was a legend when I came to the [Premier League] in BC. I heard about him as a pitcher, and how he could mash as well. To see someone make the big leagues at different times and at different positions is unbelievable. A lot of us have been struggling and grinding away to make it one way, just for a minute, if that’s all there is…
“I hope he goes on to prove to baseball that he deserves to be there … I know what it’s like to go through the injuries and have everyone doubting you. To be able to prove to himself and to baseball that he can come back from it all, in not just one way like when he did it as a hitter, then another now that he’s back to pitching, is ridiculous.”
Added Jimmy Van Ostrand (Richmond, BC): “I wasn’t surprised, but it’s pretty unbelievable when you think about what he’s done throughout his career. The fact that he’s doing it again is unbelievable. But now that he’s started rolling and he’s shown what he’s capable of, it’s not a surprise…
“I’m fired up. I’m really excited for him. He’s worked hard and he’s extremely talented, and he’s going to get to go show that in the big leagues again.”