Clint Bowker is livin' the dream.
The Ada High graduate is playing the sport he loves, and he's getting paid for it.
Bowker is a pitcher for the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings minor league baseball team out of Harlingen, Texas, which is a member United League Baseball, an independent professional league which is not affiliated with Major League Baseball.
Bowker was known more for his bat and his fielding throughout his collegiate career at Oklahoma Christian University, but WhiteWings coach Eddie Dennis had him pitch early during the Arizona Winter League this past February as coach of the San Luis Atleticos. During the month-long winter league, Bowker finished with a perfect 4-0 record on the mound in just 20 innings of work.
"I went in to the winter league as an outfielder and after a week in the league, I also pitched. My coach (Dennis) liked the way I pitched and he wanted to see more. I continued to throw throughout the winter league … and Eddie signed me after the league was over as a pitcher-only so here I am now," Bowker explained.
It's a surprise to most who have followed his career to see Bowker as a pitcher only player. After all, he hit .429 with a double and a triple and four RBIs in just 21 at-bats for the Atleticos and also sizzled at the plate during his final year at Oklahoma Christian where he hit .415 with five home runs, a triple, seven doubles and 26 RBIs. In fact, that same season with the Eagles he pitched 29 innings and was 2-3 with a 5.90 ERA.
"I have realized after becoming an all-time pitcher, that I was a thrower in college. I would throw what the catcher/coach called and my pitches weren't fully developed — and they still aren't. But when I played in the field everyday, I developed the skills of an everyday player and focused on pitching the scattered days I was on the mound. I was throwing the ball in the strike zone and letting the hitters get out," Bowker explained.
"I definitely can still swing the bat," he laughed. "I just don't get the chance right now."
Thanks to working with Dennis and the rest of the WhiteWings coaching staff — including former big leaguer Al Reyes — Bowker's pitching skills are getting better and better.
"I have developed a lot of movement with my pitches and adding a cutter to my arsenal has helped me keep hitters off balance. Working on my pitches every day and developing how I attack the hitter is my main focus now," he said. "I am still learning very much about pitching and one of my biggest mentors has been Al Reyes. He is always willing to help me with any questions I have, and gives me tips that will help me succeed in the future."
Bowker entered the weekend with a minuscule .096 ERA through his first 28 innings of work that came strictly out of the bullpen. He got his first start of the season Friday night against the Fort Worth Cats. After two scoreless frames, Bowker gave up four runs in the top of the third and another run in the fourth. He pitched five complete innings, giving up the five runs with no walks and a pair of strikeouts. Bowker didn't factor into the decision as the WhiteWings dropped a tough 8-7 setback to the Cats.
"It didn't go exactly how I hoped it would," Bowker said. "But I didn't walk anyone and challenged the hitters."
Another thing that made his first start more intriguing was getting to face one of his friend, Chuckie Caufield, another Ada High product. Caufield flied out and grounded out during his first two at-bats before singling off Bowker in the fifth.
"I did get to talk to Chuckie after the game. He has always been a positive influence in my life. It is always good to talk to him," he said. "This wont surprise you. He was the last one on his team to go to the locker room because we were chatting mid-field for however long it was. It is fun as a pitcher to face great hitters like Chuckie. When he gets on the bases, you are always aware of his speed. He is an aggressive baserunner and plays the game the right way. Most of his teammates battle at the plate, and I cant tell you how much I enjoyed throwing to them. It helps me realize how important each pitch is."
Even after surrendering the five runs on Friday, Bowker still has an impressive 2.18 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 33 innings. And he will get plenty of more opportunities during the WhiteWings 96-game schedule. Rio Grande Valley was 34-26 heading into a Saturday night contest against the Cats.
Bowker is loving every minute of it.
"Our defense is great and our pitching staff is the best in the league so far this year. We have released and picked up a lot of players throughout the year. We have been battling between first and third place in our division all year," he said. "We have a lot of foreign guys on the team and it is neat to see the different styles of baseball these different cultures play."
Bowker said in a way, it reminds him of his playing days as an Ada Cougar.
"There are so many successful styles of baseball and ours is old school. Eddie preaches repetition and hard work — do a million little things right and the big things will take care of themselves. I enjoy this style of baseball the most. The method reminds me of playing for Ronny Johns at Ada — constant concern for hard work and making the routine plays."
Bowker doesn't know what will happen after the WhiteWings season ends in September. He's just glad he's been able to come along for the ride.
"Im not really sure what the future will hold for me. Im just trying to live in the moment and help my team win the championship. I am blessed with such a great opportunity to play a game and get paid for it. It's something I've always dreamed of," he said.