Santa Barbara ace Kevin Gowdy counters pressure of approaching draft with California cool
The trip to Santa Barbara to see Gowdy pitch
Johnny Cash is belting out “Ring of Fire” from the public address system at Santa Barbara High. Kevin Gowdy, a 6-foot-4, 175-pound right-handed pitcher, is warming up in the bullpen as a dozen professional scouts stand outside a fence staring in silence.
A fastball that reaches 94 mph, a nasty slider, the ability to throw strikes and polished mechanics all make him a likely first-round draft pick come June 9.
With a little more than a month to go before draft day, it’s time for the big league scouting supervisors to confirm what area scouts have been telling them. In the case of Gowdy, there’s much to like.
He has 72 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings while walking just five batters. His slender frame means additional weight and strength is likely to help him increase his velocity. He’s a UCLA signee who played for the USA 18U team that won a gold medal last fall in Japan.
“It’s been a real fun season so far,” he said. “I had a couple of rough outings in the beginning, then found a way to bounce back.”
Coming to Santa Barbara has to be one of the best perks for a scout. Driving up the 101 Freeway, passing the beaches of Ventura and Carpinteria, seeing the waves and surfers, it’s the best of California coolness on display.
“I put my window down and start taking pictures at sunset,” Houston Astros scout Tim Costic said. “It makes the guys in the Midwest and East jealous.”
Coolness and a big smile are qualities Gowdy has picked up living all his life in Santa Barbara. His father, Steve, sits in an elevated chair behind home plate armed with sunflower seeds, a cup of iced tea and a pencil and notepad. His video camera is attached to the fence. Gowdy’s mother, Laura, is sitting on a bench holding the leash of the family dog, Cooper, a 1-year-old golden retriever named after Cooperstown.
“He loves to watch baseball at home on the TV,” Steve said of Cooper. “He’s a scout favorite.”
Cooper wags his tail after Gowdy throws a strike in a game on Wednesday against Santa Ynez. But mostly he’s lying down, resting and chewing bark.
“It’s been awesome,” Gowdy said of his parents. “They’ve been so supportive of me throughout my entire career.”
These are the waning days for memories of Mom and Dad making those trips to Little League games, of cleaning dirty uniforms, of supplying cupcakes after games and pats on the back after losses.
Living in Santa Barbara is like being on vacation 365 days a year. On this day, there’s a cruise ship off-shore and wind is blowing so strong that Gowdy can get a feel for what it must have been like playing baseball at the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
He strikes out nine in six innings and leaves with a 3-2 lead. After Santa Ynez ties the game in the seventh, Santa Barbara wins it, 4-3, in the ninth, and Gowdy is one of the players joining a dogpile.
Clearly pressure is growing as the draft approaches, but Gowdy has an experience to fall back on from last fall’s gold-medal game in Japan in front of 16,000 people.
“It was really loud,” he said. “I come back here, there’s still pressure, but I learned to get through it.”
There’s also the Santa Barbara secret for relieving stress by taking Cooper to the beach and walking on the white sand and thinking about the future on a cloudless day.
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