One of the ultimate truisms of life, at least as far as I’ve managed to piece together through the advice of the varyingly awesome people I have managed to surround myself with and almost-but-not-quite-oh-god thirty years of life experience, is that there’s always the one that got away. Whether it’s that boyfriend that you broke up with for maybe not the greatest reasons, or the friend you lost touch with, or the job you chickened out on applying for, or the adorable lefty starter who stole your heart for good one Tuesday in August of 2004, and then ran off with it never to return.
You knew I’d make this about baseball eventually.
Noah Lowry was the great hope of the Giants pitching staff once upon a time, when offense was still king, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were but twinkles in Dave Righetti’s eye, and Madison Bumgarner’s first pet cow wasn’t even a zygote. It may seem laughable now, given the strength of the almost entirely home grown rotation (plus key relievers) that is likely to take the field in just a few short months, but there was a time when the Giants’ farm system was anything but a lock to produce major league calibre, much less above average major league calibre, pitchers. Sure, the Reds lineup that Lowry roughed up that August night wasn’t a whole lot to write home about, but he was a 23 year old kid coming off a solid but not overwhelming minor league career, a guy who hadn’t cracked the top ten of the Baseball America organizational rankings in either of the previous two go-rounds, and he was making things happen for real in just his fourth big league start (and eighth appearance overall if you count the few relief appearances he had as a September call-up in 2003). It’s so easy to take for granted now, when the pitching is almost an after thought as we all sit here begging, praying, pleading with the baseball gods to please let someone in the lineup remember how to hit the ball this season, but Noah Lowry was a rare breed back then. His changeup was a thing of beauty long before people were proposing marriage to Tim Lincecum’s, and he had a tricky little slider that, along with the toe point finish he had on his delivery, was enough to win over every last part of my brain and heart, from rational sports analyst to squealing inner teenager.
And, well, it’s almost too sad to finish this story. Lowry got hurt. And hurt again. And hurt some more. There was surgery after surgery, and accusations of the Giants medical staff misdiagnosing his original injury and performing unnecessary and inappropriate surgeries as a result. The details don’t really matter much at this point. What matters is that Noah is the one who got away. That could have been. That should have been. Looking at Andy Baggarly’s projected 2010 lineup that he put together with the 2007 Baseball America prospect rankings, its hard to imagine any reality where that lineup would have won the World Series. Looking at that rotation, though, they almost all did, and it’s difficult for me not to get more than a little choked up and get a little caught up in an overwhelming saudade. Maybe Lowry angered the luck dragon one too many times, maybe he’s going to come back in his next life and win more World Series rings than he has fingers as payment for the karmic debt he’s owed, maybe thems just the breaks. No way to know, and I’m not so sure that it makes a difference. The fact is that he got stuck with a far, far too short career wedged squarely between the Giants’ two World Series appearances I can remember with any particular clarity, in a pretty aggressive black hole ranging from “meh” to “someone please put this team out of their/our misery”.
But there are those of us that remember, which is more than many people can say. Noah will always be on a very short list of players that I can credit with making me love baseball and keeping that love alive. In fact, at the moment it’s basically a list of three people. So, Noah, at least in this one very small corner of the baseball world, you’re on an exceedingly short list with a six time Gold Glove winner and a Rookie of the Year and World Series champion. You were a good Giant, even if some could argue the Giants weren’t always very good to you. And hey, the Ryan Vogelsong story could use a sequel some day very soon, if you ever feel up to it.