By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
BUFFALO, NY – To say that Adam Loewen’s career has been unorthodox would be an understatement.
From being the highest Canadian-born player ever drafted, to accepting that the days for his prized pitching arm had come and gone because of injury, to “having the balls” to believe he could return to the big leagues as a hitter, to then attempting to make a comeback as a hurler, Loewen is certainly blazing some sort of trail.
“It’s been crazy,” he said.
The 31-year-old southpaw became the highest Canuck draft selection in 2002, when the Baltimore Orioles selected him with the fourth overall pick in what was the country’s best draft year. Loewen was followed almost immediately by the selection of fellow BC native Jeff Francis, taken ninth overall by the Colorado Rockies.
“Jeff and I got to go through [the draft] together, which made it a lot easier because there was a lot of media attention and I just remember being so overwhelmed,” Loewen said. “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.”
Coming almost full circle from that moment, Loewen and Francis had a unique opportunity this season to pitch against each other at the same time in the same game when they reunited in the Triple-A International League, the former hitter suiting up for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and his 34-year-old counterpart with the Buffalo Bisons.
“We had never pitched against each other and that was pretty cool, to go head to head against him,” Loewen said. “He was just finishing off his sixth inning and I came in and we actually pitched in the same inning. That had never happened before. That was pretty cool.
“We’ve had some good highlights in our careers and we’re doing well at this level, and anything could happen. Maybe we’ll be pitching against each other someday in the big leagues. It’s been a good ride … I’ve been pretty blessed to be where I’m at and to have had two more chances.”
The native of Surrey’s first chance came with the team that drafted him. He pitched in parts of three seasons in the majors with the Orioles before his elbow made it nearly impossible for him to continue.
Then he had a wild idea.
“The craziest part was probably when I went back to hitting,” Loewen said. “That was a crazy decision. I don’t know where I came up with the balls to do that.”
It doesn’t matter where they came from, they got him back to the big leagues, and this time with the Blue Jays, his country’s only team. However shortlived his swinging stint in Toronto was, it marked a definite bright spot in his unconventional career, after pitching at Yankee Stadium and his time with Team Canada of course.
“The first World Baseball Classic was definitely the highlight,” Loewen said. “Beating Team USA. And then my first year in Baltimore and pitching in the big leagues against the Yankees. I faced them five times, and was pitching against Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez – they were stacked – Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada, the list goes on and on. Pitching in those games was really fun.
“And then of course making it up to Toronto as a hitter. I loved swinging the bat, and playing for the team that I grew up watching was a dream come true. It really was.”
Loewen has seen the plate from every angle, and while his time as a hitter has helped him in his second go-round on the mound, his pitching experience didn’t help him as much as he thought it would when he first decided to seriously break out his bat.
“It just turned out to be a guessing game,” he said. “The best thing that worked for me was to see the ball and go after it, not to adjust pitch to pitch. But then the other side, going from hitting to pitching, you understand how hard it is to hit. That encourages strike one, and getting ahead of hitters, and helps with reading swings.”
While his time away from the hill was the biggest contributing factor to Loewen’s current success – right now riding a 1.88 ERA over 43 innings this year between Double-A Reading and the IronPigs, with 28 walks and 52 strikeouts, holding opponents to a .213 average – he’s made plenty of adjustments that have helped as well.
“I’ve learned a few mechanical things since I last pitched,” the left-hander said. “Mostly from my five years of hitting experience. I feel like I know how to read swings a little better, and through the course of an at-bat I can throw better sequences than I could when I was younger. But other than that it feels the same as when I was 22 or 23. I’m pretty happy to still be healthy.”
The toughest lesson in the learning experience that has become Loewen’s career came earlier this season, when the adjustments weren’t enough. He was struggling with command enough so that the Phillies thought a move down the ladder to Reading was the answer. There for a month before returning to Lehigh Valley, the hurler is grateful for the experience.
“It was tough getting sent down to Double-A this year and really re-evaluating the way I look at pitching, learning how to control my body and repeat the same thing so I can throw strikes,” he said. “I mean, I think I took that for granted these last two years, and now I’m better for [the time with the Fightin’ Phils].”
It was during his time in Double-A that Loewen excitedly jumped at the chance to once again suit up for Team Canada, accepting his invitation to the upcoming Pan Am Games being held on home soil in the Toronto area.
His trips with Baseball Canada have been consistent highlights throughout the ups and downs of Loewen’s career, from playing in the world junior championships in Edmonton as a 16-year-old and throwing in a comeback victory over Korea, to the WBC, and he was looking forward to defending the country’s gold-medal victory in the last Pan Am Games four years ago in Lagos de Moreno, Mex.
But his success and his promotion back to Triple-A made the decision more complicated. Loewen eventually bowed out of the international competition in the hopes of taking a big-league mound again for the first time in seven years.
“It’s a really tough spot in the year,” Loewen said. “I don’t think I’ve ever backed down from Team Canada. It was a tough decision because one of my bucket list things to do is to play in the Olympics. The Pan Ams used to be a qualifier to go to the Olympics, so I really, really wanted to go, but I had to think of my career. My goal is to make it back to the big leagues.”
Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt, also the roving catching coordinator for the Phillies, knew he was going to be fortunate to have Loewen on the roster. Although he was disappointed to lose him, he believes it was the right decision for the Phils farmhand.
“Adam, for his own career, is making the right decision because he’s throwing the ball extremely well,” Whitt said. “What hurts me is that I was planning on using him as a [designated hitter] and a pinch hitter off the bench too. When I left Reading he was still there and I asked Dusty [Wathan, the team’s manager] if he would please allow Adam to swing every day. Then all of a sudden, Adam’s throwing the ball great, and it’s the right decision for him.”
With Philadelphia battling at the big-league level, and Loewen impressing in Triple-A, he is closer to the majors than he has been in years. And with another competition for Team Canada on the books in November, with Premier 12 being held in Taiwan and Japan, the hurler isn’t counting out getting back into the red-and-white jersey anytime soon.
“If it was this time last year, there wouldn’t even be a question,” Loewen said. “I’d be in.”
And then of course, he’s always had that dream of heading to the Olympics.
“So, in 2020, I’ll be 36 …”