By Gavin Menu
Kyle McGowin’s journey to professional baseball began, officially, with a letter to Kyle McGowin, from Kyle McGowin. It was written 15 years ago in a sixth-grade classroom at the Pierson Middle/High School, and it was summarized in one final sentence.
“One of my highest dreams,” McGowin wrote to himself, “is to become a professional baseball player and to play for the New York Yankees.”
McGowin, whose career began at Pierson and blossomed at Savannah State University in Georgia, has rocketed through the ranks of the Minor Leagues after being drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2013. He spent most of last season pitching for Triple-A Salt Lake City, and learned in December that he had been traded to the Washington Nationals.
So while his next big breakthrough will not come with his beloved Yankees, McGowin appears ready to hit the big leagues in the not-to-distant future. He will report to spring training with the Nationals in West Palm Beach on February 14 with the goal of making the Major League roster. Otherwise, a spot in the rotation at Triple-A Syracuse will suit McGowin just fine for now.
“Moving up through the ranks you learn that everyone else is just as good as you, if not better,” McGowin said following an event on Saturday at Pierson hosted by Sean Crowley, the school’s “new” head baseball coach, whose previous stint at the helm of the program lasted nearly 20 years. “I’ve had some ups and downs, but it’s been pretty fast how I’ve progressed.”
McGowin, who finished last season with a 9-14 record and 153 strikeouts, spoke to a crowd of about 100 including dozens of young players from Sag Harbor and the surrounding area, who came to see what a big league fastball looks like. McGowin following a photo and video presentation about his career from Sag Harbor Little League through last season in Triple A with a bullpen session in the high school gymnasium. Catching McGowin — and his low-to-mid-90s fastball — was Aaron Schiavoni, a former Pierson catcher now in his junior year at SUNY Maritime.
“Someone of that level, to come from Sag Harbor, and with the story he has, it’s a real honor,” said Schiavoni, a second-year captain and the starting catcher at Maritime.
McGowin signed autographs after the bullpen session and spoke candidly about his approach to the coming season and whether he thinks a call to the majors is imminent.
“I’m really just taking it step by step,” he said. “That’s my dream and hope, obviously, and I would like to say I’m ready for it, but I’m sure when it happens, if it does, it will be a shock. Mentally I have been preparing my whole life for this moment.”
Crowley, who coached varsity baseball at Pierson from 1988 through 2009 and had McGowin on his roster for three seasons, was tapped to replace Jon Tortorella, who resigned for family reasons with his first child on the way last year. One reason for Saturday’s event, Crowley said, was to give young players a sense of what it takes to jump from one level to the next, whether it’s from JV to varsity, or, in McGowin’s case, from the minor to the major leagues.
“I’m proud of all the players I’ve had,” Crowley said in his opening remarks on Saturday. “The ones that turn into bankers and personal trainers and athletic directors and lawyers, but we’re really proud of this guy today because he’s continuing to play baseball. He’s 25 years old and he’s ascending to the Major League level.”
McGowin said mental toughness and learning how to approach hitters at every level has been key to his success.
“When I was younger, instead of getting pitching lessons, I would watch YouTube videos of my favorite pitchers,” he said. “I would watch videos of Tim Lincecum pitching and I would study his mechanics.”
Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award-winner and three-time World Series Champion, spent some time pitching for Salt Lake last season, which was a dream come true for McGowin, who got to play alongside his childhood idol.
“If you saw my letter, I played year-round,” McGowin said on Saturday. “I wanted to play baseball, that’s what I always wanted to do. I played other sports but baseball always came first. “