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Showcase | Story | 12/28/2020

SoCal's Bowen: Let's play ball!

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Karson Bowen (Perfect Game)

FORT MYERS, Fla. – When a national health crisis mandates that baseball can’t be played in your own backyard, the best course of action is to grab your bats, gloves and spikes and make yourself at home in someone else’s backyard. And that’s exactly what top 2022 California catcher prospect Karson Bowen has done for the last six months.

More than 860 prospects from the prep classes of 2022, 2023 and 2024 arrived en masse at the jetBlue Park Player Development Complex early Monday morning willing and eager to get things started at the 19th annual Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase-Main Event.

And right there as perhaps the most willing and eager was Bowen, a baseball-loving kid from Anaheim Hills, Calif., and a junior at national prep powerhouse Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School. Bowen is also a TCU commit who came into this week’s PG National Under-Main as the nation’s No. 51-ranked overall prospect in his class, which makes him the highest ranked 2022 in attendance.

“California is still shutdown so I’m just here to play baseball,” Bowen told PG on Monday shortly after completing his workout routine on a jetBlue Park complex backfield. “I’m trying to play as much as I can because we don’t know when California is going open back up; I’m just trying to play as much as possible.”

His appearance here is just further evidence of how committed Bowen’s been to record as much playing time as circumstances have allowed over these last nine months of 2020. It’s a late Christmas gift that has come courtesy of Guerry Baldwin and the East Cobb Astros program, and no gift has ever been more appreciated.

Bowen, a regular competitor with the Huntington Beach-based GBG Renegades, had connected with the EC Astros program as a 13u player a few years back and early association opened dozens of doors for him this past summer. It was really the only route for him to take while his home state remains in a virtual lockdown due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

When Karson’s parents, David and Kris Bowen, first learned of the PG Under-Main Event and its place on the calendar – as well as Baldwin’s strong association with the event – they hoped to make this happen. They also liked that it would provide their youngest son with yet another excellent opportunity to perform on a national – albeit somewhat crowded – stage.

“We can’t play in California right now so anything we can do to get on the field is where we’re going to go,” Kris Bowen told PG on Monday. “And honestly, we also love the fields and we love Florida; it’s great weather right now.”

It was a beautiful day across Lee County Monday, with sunny skies, a light breeze and temperatures that climbed into the upper-70s. Conditions like those can leave just about every young prospect with an extra bounce in his step, especially when they’re being experienced during the last week of December.

Bowen found that extra bounce during Monday morning’s workout session. He threw 81 mph from behind the plate to second base, a velo that tied for the second-best effort of the day; his Pop time of 1.89-seconds was the day’s sixth-best effort but just .03-seconds off the event-best 1.86 produced by Evans, Ga.’s 2022 David Bell.

People everywhere have had to make radical adjustments to their routines over the last nine months but the fine folks in California have seemed to be hit the hardest during both waves of the unrelenting pandemic.

By attending Orange Lutheran, Karson Bowen is a member of one of the top high school programs in the entire country. Under the direction of head coach Eric Borba, the Lancers won three straight USA Baseball National High School Invitational championships from 2016-18 and were poised to make it four in a row until this year’s NHSI was cancelled by COVID-19.

“The baseball there and in the whole area is just so good; it’s like it’s just a bunch of ‘bred’ baseball players,” Bowen said. “Pretty much by living there you grow up being a good baseball player, along with everybody else.”

But even good baseball players aren’t able to play during a pandemic, at least not at the high school level.

According to Kris, the Bowens had formed a relationship with East Cobb’s Wes Etheridge, who had coached Karson when he played with the East Cobb Astros 13u at the 2018 PG 13u World Series in Cartersville, Ga.

Etheridge was able to help Karson find a spot on Baldwin’s powerhouse EC Astros 16u Texas Orange Squad this summer. It was a partnership made in heaven as Bowen earned all-tournament recognition three times while playing with the EC Astros 16u Texas Orange. (He also played with East Cobb Baseball at the PG WWBA World Championship here in Fort Myers in October and earned all-tournament recognition).

“Guerry has been really huge this summer letting me come out and play all the time,” Karson said. “He’s been helping with everything like getting me in front of the people that I need to be in front of. Getting to play with the Astros all summer, it’s been a lot of fun.”

And it’s certainly not as if Bowen was walking into a group of unfamiliar faces when he arrived at the jetBlue Park complex early Monday morning. He is a member of the PG Orange team, Guerry Baldwin’s top-prospect laden entry that is annually a top draw at the Under-Main Event.

Bowen is joined on the roster by fellow 2022s in Hartselle, Ala., righthander Elliott Bray (No. 363, Auburn) and Winston, Ga., outfielder Chandler Pollard (No. 389, uncommitted).

More conspicuous are the 2023s who are onboard, dudes like Cedartown, Ga., shortstop Dylan Cupp (No. 17, Mississippi State), Atlanta shortstop Antonio Anderson (No. 19, uncommitted), Hoover, Ala. Third baseman Walter Ford (No. 21, Alabama) and Woodstock, Ga., outfielder John Cooper Williams (No. 30, uncommitted).

“It’s just awesome; it’s always a good reunion,” Bowen said. “I haven’t seen them in a few months because of the holidays – we just took a break – so it’s always good to get back out here with them.”

Added Kris: “Even though we’re not playing in California, it’s great to have family outside of California and this is our family now.”

It makes it especially good because this East Cobb Astros 16u Texas Orange team did a lot of winning together in 2020, claiming five PG WWBA championships over the summer; those included national titles at the PG 16u National Elite Championship and the PG 16u World Series.

“It’s been everything that I could have hoped for,” Bowen said, “and who doesn’t want to win. … Being around good players always helps. You want to be better than them and you also want to help them win; you just want to play good.”

David Bowen, Karson’s dad, played football at San Jose State and Karson also played football and basketball until recently before deciding to concentrate his efforts on baseball.

Shortstop was his position of choice in his early years on the youth level but that changed when he was about 8 years old. David was coaching the team at that time and none of  the other youngsters wanted to catch so dad told son, in so many words, “Get back there, you’re all we’ve got.”

It’s a position change that’s worked out pretty well. Bowen entered the Under-Main as the No. 4-ranked catcher in the national class of 2022 and No. 2 in California. David did play baseball at the prep level before moving on to play college football and Karson said his dad played an over-sized role in his early development.

“My dad has been huge; I hit with him every day,” Bowen said. “He was a good athlete and he knows all the athletic stuff and over the years he’s learned a bunch about hitting and catching and throwing.”

The PG National Under-Main is not Karson Bowen’s first showcase experience, either. He was included on the Top Prospect List at the 2018 PG 14u West Showcase, the 2019 PG 14u National Showcase and at this year’s PG West Coast Top Prospect Games.

His performance at the PG 14u National earned Bowen an invitation to the 2019 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival, also in Fort Myers, and he began to feel the glow of the national spotlight for the first time in his young career.

“That’s probably my favorite PG event that I’ve ever been to; it was just so fun,” he said. “They took care of us and I got to play at jetBlue (Park) so it was awesome.”

Bowen has also been active in USA Baseball, playing for the 15u US National Team in 2018 and the 15u US National Team in 2019; he was the starting catcher in all eight games for the Gold Medal-winning 15u team and led the team with nine RBI and 11 total bases.

But it was on the PG travel ball circuit this summer where Bowen really shined. Hitting from the right side, he played in 37 games and hit .293 (22-for-75) with nine extra-base hits – including three triples – 22 runs, 22 RBI, a .485 OBP and 12 stolen bases.

Kris Bowen told PG that she really enjoys the social aspect of travel baseball, how it leads to new friendships and long-lasting relationships between not only the players and their peers but the families as well.

It also requires the young players to become disciplined in their everyday lives, making sure they eat properly and get plenty of sleep while maintaining the highest levels of physical and mental toughness. That’s a tall order for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old high school junior.

But Karson has done well in this pursuit so far and shows no sign of slowing down. As Kris Bowen said, she feels it’s important for these young guys to not only continue learning but to continue to give back and teach the younger kids who are coming up behind them the proper ins-and-outs. It’s not all about the friendships, she said, but what you’re getting out of it and what you’re putting back into it.

Bowen is listed at 5-feet-11, 210 pounds and considered a very good defensive catcher. He has also committed to play for coach Jim Schlossnagle at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, which seems to fit his personality.

He is, according to his mom, an avid fisherman, so maybe getting out of Orange County, Calif., will also give him an opportunity to head out to one of the dozens of lakes that surround the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“Going to TCU, that was a huge decision for me and my family and it was a great opportunity; it was everything I wanted,”  he said. “They have (a) good baseball (program) – they win – good school, good business program. It’s right in Dallas and I’m a big Cowboys fan so it all works out.”

On the baseball side of things, Bowen likes to cheer on his hometown Angels and superstar Mike Trout, among others; the family has season tickets to the Angels and is hopeful they might even get a chance to use them in 2021.

Karson Bowen is saying good riddance to a challenging 2020 and ringing in 2021 by soaking in everything that comes with being involved with the PG National Underclass-Main Event. He feels encouraged that Orange Lutheran will have a season this spring and he bases that on the fact that the school just released its 2021 schedule – local health officials will have the final say, of course.

But now is the time for fun in the sun and for using the experience to gain knowledge of yourself and those around you.

“At this event, there’s a lot of people here; there’s a lot of really good kids here,” Kris said. “You want your kid to walk away knowing that they did their best but also to stay humble. We really work on, are we staying humble, are we helping other people? You might be ranked the highest but that doesn’t mean that will last.

“Rankings don’t necessarily always mean that’s where you are in life. You still have to be a good person, a good son, a good brother; there are other things. So we try to balance that out and it’s important to us that you stay well-rounded.”

One of these days, hopefully very soon, young California standouts will be able to play in their own backyards again. In the meantime, top prospects like Karson Bowen will live by the mantra, “Have ball, will travel.”

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