Ex-Blue Jay Loewen grateful for another chance
Canadian pitcher-turned outfielder attempting to latch on with Mets in reserve role
His story is simple.
He was drafted fourth overall in 2002 for his left-handed pitching prowess. He’s made two major league debuts, including last year’s all-important September call-up experience with the Toronto Blue Jays as the team’s 27-year-old right-fielder.
"I felt all the butterflies," he said of that game in September. "A lot of thoughts were running through my mind. There was a lot of excitement."
Okay, maybe his tale is not so simple.
But for Adam Loewen, getting to that point with the Blue Jays after being taken by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round almost a decade ago was the end of an era.
The left-hander’s career on the mound ended after an injury to his pitching elbow in 2007. He essentially started over again, working his way back up to the big leagues as an outfielder. The transition was complete when he stepped into right field at Rogers Centre.
Though his recent major league dreams came to fruition at the end of last season with the team he’d grown up supporting, Loewen knew that the outfield in Toronto was already crowded.
With little room for him to stick around long-term and no other options left, Loewen got a chance with the New York Mets in the form of an invitation to spring training. The southpaw had a much more realistic chance to break camp with the Mets heading into the pre-season, and that likelihood has only increased because of injuries to Andres Torres and Scott Hairston.
"It’s good to be able to compete for a job after everything I’ve been through in the last couple years," Loewen said before a morning workout at Digital Domain Stadium on Thursday. "The Jays gave me an amazing opportunity last year and they also gave me an amazing opportunity this year to come over here and start with a new team, where I have a good opportunity."
Loewen is grateful for another chance, though another fresh start is seemingly the last thing a pitcher-turned outfielder, Oriole-turned-Blue Jay-turned-Metropolitan, would need. While he’s had time to adjust and make an impression on the New York team, the journey has been anything but simple.
"It’s been challenging," he said. "There have been a lot of ups and downs and more downs than ups really until last year. Last year was my first good year and everything kind of came together. I got the opportunity in September to play for the team I grew up watching so it was amazing. I think more positives than negatives now when I look back, but it was really difficult and challenging when I was going through it."
Helping Loewen transition into the orange-and-blue uniform has been fellow British Columbia native, Jason Bay.
"It’s really eased my way into this clubhouse and getting to know these guys because he’s one of the leaders here," Loewen said. "And to have an in with him and be a brother Canadian, it’s great. He’s just a really easy guy to get along with and he tries to involve everybody."
Bay is happy to have his former Team Canada teammate on the Mets roster.
"It’s always good having Canadian guys," the Mets left-fielder said. "Because most of the time even if you don’t know somebody, and I know Loew a little bit just from playing in the WBC and certain things, but even if there is a Canadian guy that you don’t know, it’s kind of like you play winter ball in the Dominican and you’re one of two American guys. You kind of feel like you’re buddies. It’s the same way here. He’s another Canadian guy.
"It is nice to have some familiar faces and [the media] have been asking me a lot of Canadian baseball questions lately and it’s just nice to see that we have a lot more Canadian players. When I was growing up, 15 years ago, there was one or two, and now there’s a ton of us."
One question Bay was asked recently was about New York’s backup catcher Mike Nickeas. Should Bay, Loewen and Nickeas all be on the opening day roster with the Mets, it will be the first time since the 1991 Blue Jays that a roster holds three Canadian-born players.
With his birthplace listed as Vancouver, Bay believes that Nickeas makes the cut.
"I consider him [Canadian]," Bay said. "We had the WBC and there were some borderline cases. It is what it is. And so I think that the big thing is that, whether you’re a little bit or a lot [Canadian], you’re in the club."
Loewen immediately questioned the authenticity of Nickeas’s Canadian allegiances, having never come across him in national competition or hearing his name associated with the Great White North. But upon learning that the catcher was born in Vancouver when his father was playing for the Whitecaps, he softened a little bit.
"He was born in Canada," Loewen said. "It’s got some validity to it."
Loewen then changed his mind once again after finding out that Nickeas holds no Canadian citizenship. The man behind the dish for the Mets is a dual citizen of Great Britain and the U.S.
"I think to be half Canadian you have to be like Mark Teahen at least," Loewen said. "He’s got dual [citizenship] I think. So I don’t think [Nickeas] would count."
Beyond just being the only two passport-holding Canadian citizens donning the Mets uniform this spring, Bay and Loewen have more in common than many of their teammates, both essentially trying to make career comebacks.
As Loewen is hoping to continue where he left off last September, as a starting outfielder in the major leagues, Bay is looking to bounce back after concussion and injury woes that have plagued him over the last couple of seasons.
"I’ve felt like I haven’t showed that I’m the player that I was three years ago," the 33-year-old said. "And that’s for whatever reason. I’m not pinpointing anything, it just hasn’t happened. I really look forward to this year and doing that, just trying to get back to being myself and not doing anything more, but just being the guy that I was for the first seven years of my career."
Though Bay doesn’t place blame for his lack of success on his injuries, he acknowledges that he has been his own worst enemy in trying to get back to the player he once was. Making adjustment after adjustment to his game, he lost sight of what made him successful in the first place.
"Pretty soon, you’ve done 15 different things and you don’t really know which one it is you’re doing now," he said. "You completely get away from what made you successful. It’s actually not a lack-of-trying thing, it’s kind of an over-trying thing. It’s not easy to try easier. That’s one thing I realized last year towards the end of the year. I tried to get back to what I’d always done and I kind of relaxed a little bit and just played. That’s kind of the route I’m taking this year."
With Bay trying to get back to what he’s always done and Loewen attempting to solidify his role on the team, the Mets are sure to feel the Canadian influence in the outfield this season.