Alan Dell

Commentary: Dreamers get chance to play dream makers

It’s always a good day when dreamers and dream makers share the same venue for a few hours.

It adds importance to an otherwise meaningless spring game that ended in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 21-1 victory over State College of Florida.

The SCF players got a first-hand look at where they want to take their dreams, and some Pirates got to show Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle they deserve a second look. It also didn’t hurt that the money from the gate went to charities.

Somewhere in between those college players dreaming to be big leaguers and big leaguers trying to maintain their quality of life is a guy like the Pirates’ John Bowker.

He has lived the dream, even tasted it, but never quite finished it.

His minor-league numbers are the type that spawn all-stars and belong to hall of famers.

Unfortunately, the Sacramento, Calif., native woke up to a nightmare before he duplicated those feats at the big league level.

It found him in the starting lineup for the Pirates on Friday in a game where those who figure to be traveling north at the end of March had the day off.

But Bower didn’t feel slighted. The outfielder is more concerned about opportunity than pride.

He might be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the Pirates looking set at first base and in right field, the two positions that figured to give him the most playing time this season.

He joined Pittsburgh at the end of July last year bringing a reputation for hammering Triple-A pitching, but unable to master the art of hitting at the big league level.

The 27-year-old says it’s a fallacy that he can’t hit in the big leagues and will try to prove his point every chance he gets to swing a bat. The problem is that there might not be that many opportunities on this team.

Bowker is trying to shed an image that haunts many players who have fallen short of reaching their aspirations -- that he is a minor-league sensation who can’t hit major-league pitching, that he is undisciplined at the plate and can’t hit the breaking ball.

“I’ve hit breaking balls, I’ve hit change-ups. It’s not like there is a certain pitch I can’t hit,” Bowker says. “Maybe I am a little overaggressive at times. I am an aggressive hitter and attack the ball, and maybe I need to tame that at little bit and get a good pitch to hit.”

Bowker’s chances of making the team were hurt during the offseason when the Pirates acquired Matt Diaz, who is expected to share the right field role with Garrett Jones. The team will likely carry one more outfielder, but there are too many options to make this a simple math question.

“I try not to look into things that I can’t control like them bringing in guys to help the team,” Bowker says. “I am here for the team and anything I can do to help I will. Obviously, my goal is to play every day and be a starter. If I play my game, I think things will take care of themselves.”

In 2009, Bowker led the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.342), on base-percentage and slugging percentage while playing 45 games in right field, 41 in left and 16 at first base. After the San Francisco Giants brought him up, he hit .194 in 67 at-bats.

He started 2010 in San Francisco and after 41 games and a .207 batting average was shipped back to Fresno, where he hit .310, and later to Indianapolis, where he compiled a .319 average. He got 69 at-bats for Pittsburgh last season and hit .232.

Word, arguably unfairly, spread that Bowker had poor discipline at the plate and couldn’t lay off bad pitches. Some labeled the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder a minor-league lifer, but he won’t accept that tag.

“Hitting is all about patience and confidence and right now I feel confident in the batter’s box,” he says. “Playing time definitely helps. When you are playing more you get in the groove. It’s a hard thing to do coming off the bench because a lot of times you are facing the closer. But that’s not an excuse. You still have to go out there and produce. I just need to be more consistent.”

Hurdle sounds like a person who sees the positive in everything, which means Bowker’s 1-for-2, two RBI day against the Manatees did not go unnoticed.

“Those games are hard to play. You want to do well and get your work in, and you hope they enjoyed the experience to some degree and want to treat the game the way it needs to be treated,” Hurdle says. “Our guys went out and played well. Pitches that should be hit were hit. It was a good day.”

Alan Dell, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.

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