"My personal goals are just to go out there, compete, show I belong, and do as much as I can to help us win.
Playing in the show is an indescribable feeling, so I'm going to have some fun with it and embrace it all."
Welcome to the show, kid.
For Kevin McGowan, Franklin Pierce class of 2015, it was straight into the fire in his Major League debut on August 22. As the 6-foot-5 right-hander entered from the bullpen in right-center field at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, he came on to face a situation which was far from rosy. Already trailing by five, with two outs in the top of the fifth, McGowan entered to face a five-time All-Star and current National League MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In his own words, McGowan's only goals for his initial batter faced in the big leagues were to "just compete against this guy" and to "go up there and battle." His emotions were, admittedly, striking a number of different notes.
"I was obviously nervous, but I think I was more excited than anything," said McGowan. "It's obviously something you dream about since you were in Little League, so I really wanted to enjoy it instead of just shutting off my emotions."
Then, his own catcher, Kevin Plawecki, did little to help manage those nerves out of the gate.
"The worst part was, I was like 'First big league pitch, here we go!'", continued McGowan. "And then [Plawecki] put down slider. I was like 'No way, my first big league pitch is going to be a slider that I bounce 55 feet.'"
Of course, the last thing a pitcher making his MLB debut wants to do is start shaking off his catcher, so McGowan went with what his former Minor League teammate had offered and threw the slider.
"Somehow, it was a strike," McGowan recounted, with a laugh.
His big league career was underway.
A 13th-round pick (386 overall) after helping to lead the Ravens to the 2013 NCAA East Regional title, McGowan made his MLB debut in just his fifth professional season. He is the second former Franklin Pierce player to appear in the big leagues, joining fellow 2013 teammate and draftee Steve Hathaway, who made his debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks late in the 2016 season. McGowan is just the third player, out of 30 selected in the 13th round in 2013, to make his MLB debut.
McGowan has been living in a nearly perpetual state of limbo since earning his initial call-up. A victim of the numbers game, at least for now, he has made just the one appearance on an MLB mound, and been shuttled on and off the active roster several times since earning his big league stripes.
Most recently, he was added to the roster on Sunday, Aug. 27, as the extra man allowed on the active roster by Major League Baseball for doubleheaders, as the Mets played the Nationals twice in Washington to wrap up the weekend series. After the nightcap, he was sent back down to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he will remain until the Minor League season ends on Sept. 4. At that point, he will be recalled to the Mets for the remainder of the MLB campaign.
To the outside observer, the obvious indication is the final month of the 2017 season will serve as McGowan's audition to begin the 2018 season as a member of the Mets' bullpen. The right-hander, who now sports an objectively impressive flow of dark hair billowing out from under his cap, insists he's taking things as they come and trying to enjoy every moment.
"My personal goals are just to go out there, compete, show I belong, and do as much as I can to help us win. Playing in the show is an indescribable feeling, so I'm going to have some fun with it and embrace it all."
Though he's been on just the one big league road trip, McGowan makes it sound as if the perks of traveling in MLB style are helping to tamp down on any nerves from essentially pitching for his future job.
"Life on the road is awesome," offered McGowan. "You fly a plane with just your teammates and staff. They serve great meals throughout the flight. Then, you get your own room at a very nice hotel, where they bring your luggage up for you. You kind of have to experience it to understand how amazing it is."
McGowan, who calls Franklin Pierce "still like my favorite place ever", still keeps some connections back to Rindge. He plans to return to Pappas Field for the baseball program's annual alumni game on Oct. 7. He is active on Twitter (@kevinmcgowanjr) and can regularly be found tweeting in support of his alma mater during the college season. Even his walkout song has a Raven connection.
McGowan currently enters from the bullpen to strains of "Take Me Home Tonight" by Eddie Money. He chose the song to honor former men's ice hockey player Doug Usseglio, who was a freshman during McGowan's final season in a Raven uniform, and who passed away in March of 2016.
"After he passed away last year, they had a ceremony for him at FPU where they played the song. So, I decided to use that to show some love to Dougie."
Like any player who completes the journey to Major League Baseball, McGowan did not make the trek alone. When asked, he offered a host of people he wanted to thank for their role in his career so far.
"My friends and family I have to thank first; obviously, my family has been with me for every step of the way," said McGowan. "Then, my coaches, who helped develop me into the player I am today; I could never thank them enough. My agent is literally Jerry Maguire, just an amazing dude who really takes care of me."
He even already has at least one super fan.
"One of my best friends took a whole week of work off to stay with me in NYC. He was hoping he'd get fired."
After dropping the slider over the inside corner for strike one to Goldschmidt, McGowan missed outside twice to fall behind in the count, 2-1. Goldschmidt swung through a fastball on the outer half to make it 2-2 and then fouled off a slider, before officially, and rudely, welcoming McGowan to the big leagues.
"I knew I could get him out down and away, and up and in, with fastballs," recounted McGowan. "I thought I had him, but then I threw a fastball that caught too much of the plate and he hit it in the gap."
Goldschmidt went the other way, into the gap in right-center, for an RBI double to drive home the runner McGowan had inherited. Four pitches later, McGowan got J.D. Martinez to pop up to second base to end the inning.
McGowan bounced back nicely in the sixth and retired the side in order on 16 pitches. He got Brandon Drury to bounce out to third base. He got Ketel Marte to line out to shortstop. Finally, he capped the inning with his first MLB strikeout, using five pitches to fan Adam Rosales, whom he dispatched with an 81-mph changeup for a swinging strike three.
The strikeout would be the final out McGowan recorded on the night, as things went off track when he returned to the mound for the seventh. A walk, a single and another walk loaded the bases with nobody out on 12 pitches, and that was it for McGowan's Major League debut. He was relieved by Hansel Robles, who got out of the jam while allowing just one run.
McGowan's initial big league line: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K.
The baseballs used for his first MLB pitch and his first career strikeout were both taken out of play, marked as authentic by the MLB Authenticator on-site, put into cases and given to McGowan, who says he will likely give the mementos to his parents. He came away with one other souvenir from his big league debut as well: the lineup sheet which was posted on the wall of the dugout during the game.
For McGowan though, the memorabilia cannot match the memories.
"I'm still in shock, it's still so surreal," he said.
Welcome to the show, indeed.
Feature Written by Matt Janik, Franklin Pierce Director of Athletic Communication
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