CHICAGO — James Rowson’s story is a remarkable one, even if his playing career was anything but.
So how, exactly, does someone with only four years of experience in pro ball that never advanced past High-A make it all the way to the big leagues 15 years after he retired? Because none of that matters.
Rowson, who finished his stint as a player in affiliated ball with the Yankees with a 45-game stay between three teams in 1997, now serves as the Chicago Cubs hitting coach after six seasons as New York’s minor league hitting coordinator.
The 36-year-old Mount Vernon, New York native initially joined the inhabitants of the “friendly confines” prior to the start of the 2012 season as their minor league hitting coordinator, but took over for Rudy Jaramillo when he was fired from his post as hitting coach midway through the year.
“I was excited,” Rowson told The Democrat in a one-on-one interview at Wrigley Field.
“I waited a long time just to say you’re a part of a Major League club, because obviously I wasn’t able to do it as a player. But I continued to work and I continued to learn from a lot of good people, and I got an opportunity to do it as a coach. So I was really grateful, and I was excited for the opportunity.”
There can, perhaps, be a stigma surrounding coaches who didn’t reach the higher levels of the game, as is the case with Rowson. But, just as having Major League experience doesn’t necessarily make you a great coach, a lack of it doesn’t necessarily make you a bad one, either.
“I think it’s on an individual basis,” Rowson said. “So as a teacher, I wasn’t hired to start in center field, I was hired to be the hitting coach. It’s just coming in, learning each guy and getting to learn what they do well. I think if you’re confident in what you teach and you know how to build relationships with players…players want to do things that are going to help them hit better, so it doesn’t matter what you did specifically as a player. It matters how you can help these players with their talent, and I think guys understand that. They’re looking for anything that can help them hit better.”
Rowson learned his craft as the Yankees minor league hitting coordinator from 2006-2011. During that time, he came to Trenton frequently, and even filled in as hitting coach there for a time after Julius Matos was fired following an altercation with Tony Franklin. His time in pinstripes, he says, was simply invaluable.
“I can honestly say that I couldn’t do this job without that experience,” he said. “To be in that organization and to learn how to be organized and how to do things the right way and just all the skills I’ve learned and all the good people I’ve gotten to work with over time, it’s definitely helped prepare me for this situation. (I learned about) just the way to carry yourself, the way to work hard, the way to stay dedicated. I learned great things over there, great lessons that I carry in baseball and also in life.”
There is, of course a difference between refining — as you could argue Rowson has to do with a group of hitters that aren’t much younger than he is — and teaching, which is a large part of the instruction he’d be performing at the minor league level. But he simplifies it a bit more than that regardless of his surroundings.
“I think you always consider yourself a teacher, no matter what level you’re at,” he said. “I think it’s more learning the differences between players. Every year, whether you’re a hitting coordinator or a Major League hitting coach, you’re trying to learn what’s going to help each player the best.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com