Juniata grad looks to minors

PORT ROYAL – Seth Bowersox is in so many ways your typical 19-year-old but for the details.

The Juniata High School product cherishes time with friends and family, and his prized possession is a 1992 red and black Pontiac Grand Am.

Oh, and Bowersox has his sights set on pitching professionally in the independent Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball (Can-Am League) this summer. Bowersox admits his big league dreams are more like minor league expectations.

Bowersox had a standout season at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in 2013. As a freshman, he made six appearances, striking out one walking seven in seven innings. Scouts noticed Bowersox held opposing batters to a .150 average, which ranked ninth nationally, and didn’t allow a run. Those numbers helped the Wildcats to a 24-17 record and a fifth-place finish at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association World Series.

That success quickly soured when Penn College announced it was planning to transition to NCAA Division III status. The decision left Bowersox’s future in doubt as all the players on the Wildcats’ roster had to be enrolled in four-year degree programs.

As a computer technology major in a two-year program, Bowersox opted to leave the Williamsport campus. Currently, he is taking on-line classes at Harrisburg Area Community College to earn his degree.

Now, Bowersox hopes to resume his baseball career by earning a professional contract with either the New Jersey Jackals or Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders of the Can-Am League. He is scheduled to try out for the Jackals, who are based in Montclair, N.J., on May 8 and the Boulders on May 9.

“I have dreamed about this my whole life, ever since I had my first strikeout,” Bowersox says. “I loved the control over the game. I could win or lose the game all by myself. I dedicated my whole life to baseball and it’s became a true love and a lifestyle.”

Bowersox plans to attend the tryout with Alex Hughes, a 2011 Indian Valley High School grad whom he met through a mutual friend while at Penn College. Hughes played third base as a junior for Indian Valley, his lone season of high school baseball.

Bowersox admits he was a bit skeptical after receiving a phone call from Rockland head scout Kevin Tuve.

“At first, I thought they were kind of out for the money,” he says, referring to the tryout fee that players have to pay. “The second time he called and said he had arranged a hotel room for me, I thought this could be the real deal. He said he really wanted to help me explore my options and find a ball team to play for.”

As a result, Bowersox decided to try out for both of the Can-Am League teams.

“Hopefully, one of the teams likes what they see in me,” he adds. “I’m afraid my age will be looked at as a con. Most of these guys playing at this level are either just out of college or are married and have children. Some even have professional experience that just can’t let go of the sport. I’m hoping one of those teams gives me a chance, so i can learn and develop. By the time I’m in my mid-20s, I’ll be able to perform at the top level.”

The 5-foot-9, 225-pound Bowersox realizes he must use his talented arm to make up for what he lacks in experience. Most players in the independent ranks have played college ball for four seasons, while he only played one.

“My realistic goal is to make one of those two teams and just focus on what I need to do to get better and at the (affiliated) minor league level,” he explains. “I want to learn from the older guys on the team, so I can be at the top of my game.”

This won’t be the first time Bowersox has showcased his talents for pro teams. He tried out unsuccessfully for the Harrisburg Senators of the Double-A Eastern League and the Williamsport Crosscutters of the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League this spring. He also talked to Mark Mason, who manages the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League, about attending that team’s recent tryout.

Mason suggested that the Can-Am League or Frontier League might be a better fit for Bowersox because players in those independent circuits are generally younger with less experience than the others.

“It all looks hopeful,” Bowersox says. “Which ever team I get to play for, I will be grateful. The world has a small window of opportunities and I have been blessed with the athletic ability to be able to play at this age at that level.”

Bowersox and Hughes also traveled together to Tiffin, Ohio, to try out for the Saints of the Independent Baseball League. Bowersox earned a contract offer but declined it for personal reasons, while Hughes never got a callback. Now, both are back and hoping to get another shot.

“My velocity is right where it needs to be,” Bowersox says. “I’m averaging mid- to high-80s with a good off-speed pitch. It felt good knowing they liked what I had.”

Hughes realizes that playing professionally might be a long shot, but he knows he won’t succeed if he doesn’t try.

“I’ve played baseball my whole life,” the 20-year-old Hughes explains. “I want to challenge myself to play at the highest level. I want to go to the tryout, give it my best shot and see if I can make it.”

Hughes treated the Tiffin tryout as a learning experience, heeding the advice of former Major Leaguer Bill Madlock. Madlock, who played for six teams in 15 seasons including the Pittsburgh Pirates, had been hired to manage the Tiffin Saints until he was recently replaced.

“He helped me with my fielding by telling me to really focus on my fundamentals,” Hughes says. “He told me to set my feet, take my time and don’t rush. I need to be patient with my throws.”