Bears’ Bowman signs with Bluefield State

By Jeff Linville

August 5, 2014

Mount Airy pitcher John Bowman has accepted an offer to play for Bluefield State.

The recent graduate joins a staff in need of lefties so he can continue his baseball career and study civil engineering.

Bluefield coach Thomas Hunter made the offer.

“He came to a couple of games,” said John. “And I threw a bullpen (session) for him. He liked what he saw and the potential. He gave me a call back and told me he’d like me to come up there.”

What pitches does John throw?

“Fastball, curveball and I’m working on my changeup now.”

Which is his best pitch?

“It kind of changes by the day. This year mainly my curveball worked pretty well and I was able to throw strikes with it. It kept people off my fastball because I don’t throw that hard. It helped me generate more ground balls which kept us in a lot of games.”

“I just let them put it in play, which is mainly my calling card,” he said of his pitching style.

“He’s left-hander who throws strikes,” said Bears head coach Jon Cawley. “The most important pitch is strike one. If you can do that like John Bowman does, you’ve got a chance to be successful. … Sometimes we get enamored with velocity.”

John said he only hits the mid-70s with his fastball in games while some other pitchers in the area can hit in the 80s.

“He throws harder in the bullpen that he does in the game,” Cawley said of John. “He’s working so hard on his control that he’s not letting it go. He’s going to have to learn to trust that he can throw the ball where he wants to throw it and still give it all the velocity his body will allow him to give it.

John also thinks his pitches will get faster as he learns to better use his legs to drive the pitches home.

Cawley is reminded of longtime Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, another lefty who didn’t throw that hard, but kept batters guessing with his off-speed pitches.

John said the coach spoke to him in Cawley’s first season moving up from assistant coach to head coach.

“He pulled me aside when I was a sophomore and told me that the way I was going to help the team was pitching and that I needed to focus on getting my arm better and just getting better as a pitcher.”

That has been his focus ever since. He didn’t play any other sports and devoted all his time to baseball.

“I had my first-ever opportunity on the varsity team as a freshman,” said John. “That didn’t go so good — I pitched against East Surry. … I think I pitched about three innings and gave up a couple of home runs. After that, I knew what I had and I knew I could pitch on varsity.”

The first time through the lineup, he didn’t allow a run, recalled Cawley. Then East Surry got used to him and got some hits on the next go-round. Cawley added that it was an historic night as East head coach Barry Hall hit 600 career wins.

In his junior year, John pitched a five-inning no-hitter against Andrews in a 15-1 win.

Mount Airy had lost the first two games of the 2013 season before the 2A team from High Point visited the Granite City.

The Bears gave John plenty of support with three runs in the first inning and eight in the second for an 11-0 lead.

It was 12-0 in the top of the fourth when the Bears allowed one unearned run to score.

John walked a batter, who then stole second base. An error would allow the runner to score, so Andrews got a run, but the no-hitter was still intact.

Then John and his catcher, Sam Harris, shut the door and closed out the fifth inning as well. Then the game ended on the 10-run mercy rule.

“I kept the ball down and got about eight ground balls to third base. It was pretty crazy. David (Sparger) was over there and did a good job that night.”

Known for inducing grounders, John also struck out seven batters that night.

After that 0-2 start, the Bears went 13-7 before a loss to South Stokes in the conference tournament.

“This year, I lost my first game to North Wilkes. The wind gusts were about 50 miles an hour. It was the second game of the year and it was really cold. It was in the 30s — that was the high and it got colder. My arm kind of froze.

“My next game against West Wilkes, I redeemed myself that Friday night and struck out five in the row. I really saved that game and shut them out.”

He recalled that important win, “They had scored two runs when they brought me in.” That allowed the Blackhawks to take a 3-2 lead over the Bears in the top of the third.

“I got us out of the jam and pitched really well for the rest of the game. Then I kept that success going. I threw a shutout against North Stokes,” a 12-0 win on April 4.

“Against Atkins this year I had an inning where I got three outs on three pitches,” he said. “(Cawley) comes in to the dugout and goes, ‘You’ll never see that again, guys. Three outs on three pitches.’ I think I was out there two minutes the whole half inning.”

“That was the game where we beat the rain,” said Cawley. With a storm threatening the Camels’ field in Winston-Salem, the Bears won 12-2 in five innings.

“We started at 4:30 and finished the game in 57 minutes. Then the rain started around 6,” said Cawley.

“It kind of built up and I got all-conference,” said John. “I really didn’t think I’d get that until (Cawley) was talking about nominating people. I thought I had a chance because I’d won a lot of games this year (6-2 record). I think my ERA was around two, so I thought that would give me a shot.”

“It’s been great seeing how the players have come up, and their work ethics are really good. It’s really nice to see how the program’s turned around since Coach Cawley’s become the coach. He’s helped me a lot. I wouldn’t be doing this today if it weren’t for all the work he’s put into me over the years.”

“He got on to me a lot my freshman year, about made me want to quit. But I stuck with it, and I got rewarded for it. All the hard work I put in over all the summers and the falls and the winter practices, and it all paid off in the end.”

“John, he’s the poster child for hard work and determination,” said Cawley. “That’s why I think he’s going to be fine at the college level.”

That hard work started years ago when John told his mom he wanted to be a big-time baseball player like his uncle Benny Callahan.

Benny was a star at Surry Central, then Catawba before playing in the minor leagues for years. Over a five-year period with the Yankees and A’s, Benny went 50-38 in the minors and 1-2 in a brief stint with the A’s in the majors.

One of Cawley’s expectations is that pitchers get three-fourths of their throws in the strike zone and letting batters make contact.

“It speeds up the games a lot … keeping people active,” John said. “That’s why we’ve had better defenses over the past couple of years. I think that’s why a lot of people enjoyed playing out in the field because they knew they were going to get more fly balls and ground balls. A big part of my success this season was our defense; we played really well.”

Along with praising his defense, John also had kind words for his battery mate, Brian Bennett.

“He’s caught me every day in the bullpen for four years,” he said of the reserve catcher.

“This year he had the ACL injury (during football season) and he was still back there catching. It meant a lot to me that he did that because I knew some days he could hardly move back there. He still wanted me to throw to him. I’m going to miss having Brian as my catcher.”

As for college, John said he considered going to Surry Community College, but wasn’t sure if he would get any playing time.

“Coach Hunter explained that I’d get to pitch a lot as a freshman because he had a lot of innings to fill. They had a need for pitching.”

“And they wanted a left-handed pitcher,” interjected his mom Amanda Lichvar.

Since Bluefield State was the only Division II school to recruit John, the senior was ready to accept the offer before he ever saw the campus.

“The first time I went up there was freshman orientation. I really liked it. It’s kind of a small school, not more than a thousand go there, so it’s kind of like a high school feel, and I liked that. It’s a lot closer student/teacher ratio, and I liked that, too.”

John built a 3.4 GPA over his time at Mount Airy.

His favorite class was shop with assistant coach Greg Taylor teaching.

“It’s one of the reasons I chose civil engineering. I really enjoyed working with wood and stuff with him. He’s got to be one of my favorite teachers.”

Coach Taylor cares about his students as well as the baseball players.

“He wants everybody to get better; even if you’re a bench player he’s out there trying to help you get better.”

This summer John has been interning with cabinet maker Patrick Hiatt and may go into that field once his playing days are done.