In a span of seven days, Michael Bowden went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.
All’s well that ends well, it seems, as the ex-Red Sox relief pitcher now gets a chance to start anew with his hometown team, the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps just as important, the 25-year-old now has a legit shot to find a niche on a big-league roster – something that proved quite elusive during his seven-year tenure with Boston.
Reached from his Illinois residence Sunday night, Bowden spoke about what the past week has been like for him and what the immediate future holds. It all started with the Red Sox designating him for assignment – “I didn’t see that coming; I was shocked,” he said – with the other shoe dropping last Saturday when he was traded to the Cubs in exchange for outfielder Marlon Byrd. In between, there was a lot of uncertainty, but never once did Bowden doubt he would get picked up.
Bowden was so sure that a change in venue was forthcoming, that after playing catch with his former catcher, Luis Exposito, at McCoy Stadium earlier in the week, Bowden got in his car and drove home with a clear head. Knowing the position that he was in – Boston had up seven days to work out a trade involving Bowden before passing him through waivers, which in turn would have opened the door for any major-league team to claim him – the former supplemental pick knew it was only a matter of time before he officially moved on to the next chapter in his baseball career.
“I knew that somebody was going to give me a real chance and a real opportunity to go out there and play,” Bowden said via cell phone. “That’s kind of what I’ve been waiting for.”
“It looks like he’s going to get a pretty good opportunity,” agreed Pawtucket Red Sox pitching coach Rich Sauveur, who saw firsthand as Bowden underwent the transformation from promising starter to reliever in the 3 ½ years the two worked together.
To hear Bowden use the words “real” and “opportunity” in the same sentence, it shows that he fully understands the situation he’s now walking away from, particularly when referencing the past few seasons. At one time Bowden was mentioned in the same sentence as fellow 2005 draft class mate Clay Buchholz as two pitchers who would anchor Boston’s rotation for years to come.
Along the way, Bowden hit a ceiling that made it that harder for him to stick with the parent team on a consistent basis. Even when he underwent the conversion to the bullpen in the summer 2010, it was clear that if was going to make it in the major leagues, it was probably going to come with another team.
The fact that Bowden still had options available prior to this season automatically made him an expendable target anytime a roster move was needed. In the end, the Red Sox viewed him as a short-term fix rather than a dependable and trustworthy late-in-game option.
“The last four years have been difficult because I wasn’t always put in the best situation. I would go up for a day and get sent back down. I would go up for three days and get sent back,” said Bowden, reflecting on the 39 appearances he made with Boston between 2008 and this season. “It’s just hard to go up there and pitch your game and feel comfortable. You know you’re not part of the team, you’re just kind of a temporary.”
Said Sauveur, “I don’t want to knock the other major league teams because they are major league teams, but with the Boston Red Sox, it’s a tough spot to get to the big leagues because of all the talent up there.”
Even though he made the Red Sox out of spring training, Bowden still found himself in a position where he had to prove himself. First-year manager Bobby Valentine used him sparingly during the first eight games of 2012, totaling three innings between two appearances that came three days apart. Last Sunday he was removed from the 40-man roster and dangled as trade bait.
“I thought I was going to get thrown out there more and show what I can do, then [getting designated for assignment] happens, which I was very grateful for,” Bowden said. “I feel like I’m just starting my major-league career.”
In the end the Red Sox landed a much-needed outfielder in Byrd with Bowden realizing every kid’s fantasy of putting on the uniform of the team you grew up idolizing.
Once Sox general manager Ben Cherington hung up the phone with Bowden Saturday, a familiar face (Theo Epstein) wasted little time in officially welcoming the newest member of the Cubs.
“Theo called to say that they want me in the bullpen and that I’m going to get a consistent opportunity to get thrown out there,” Bowden said. “That’s all I need. Theo knows the potential that I have. That said, it’s a great feeling knowing that he wants me to come over and pitch for his club.”
Monday will mark Bowden’s first official day with the Cubs. With the longest seven days of his professional career behind him, he now sets his sights on something more permanent, knowing full well that for the first time in his career, Bowden can call himself an official big-league pitcher.
“Sometimes one door closes and another one opens,” says Bowden. “I’m ready to take advantage of this opportunity.”