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Cowan comeback: Injury, playoffs and Bite success
02/04/2017 12:05 AM ET
Jordan Cowan gets ready for a big hit during the 2016/17 ABL season
Jordan Cowan gets ready for a big hit during the 2016/17 ABL season (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL Media)

With fans watching as Jordan Cowan left the field on a stretcher, few would have expected to see the Seattle Mariners prospect back in Australia after he averaged .292 in 25 games during the 2015/16 season.

However, one year later the fan-favourite was back down under with the Adelaide Bite, proudly presented by SA Power Networks, after going through what was the toughest obstacle of his career so far.

"It was stressful," Cowan says.

"At the time I was just thinking about how bad my shoulder hurt. It's got to be, to this day, one of the worst pains I have felt physically and it sucked."

With a dislocated shoulder and labrum tear, Cowan was forced to the sidelines for six months and for the first time in his career he was off the field for an extended period of time.

"Showing up to the field knowing there was no way I was going to finish the season with the guys and help finish what we started was frustrating. You never want to get injured; you never want to see someone else get injured. It's the worst thing about the game."

At 21, Cowan is already in his fifth season of professional baseball and after hitting .306 at Class A-Advanced Bakersfield Blaze in 2016 his injury interruption is already a distant memory.

Upon his return to Adelaide, Cowan has hit the ground running and has not stopped. Backing up his .292 average from last season, the Mariners prospect hit .291 in 39 games this season.

He has also stepped up to take more of a starring role with the club, while he has tried his hand at first base and second base, alongside his usual role of short stop.

"It's fun to play other positions, that's what's going to help us. I'm all about doing whatever the team needs to win," Cowan says.

"Mintzy's done a phenomenal job this year in finding the right group of guys. Honestly, everyone that's come and helped us has done their job, whether they're a pitcher or a hitter, here for one week or two games like Max [Brown]."

Cowan shows off his quick reflexes at second base. (Joe Vella/SMP Images/ABL Media)

After using 45 players last season, Steve Mintz has rotated 38 players throughout the team this season and with many new faces the team bonded after a few weeks of getting to know one another.

"It's a lot younger team… Obviously we had Tom Brice, he was like the oldest guy in the league so we always joked with him," Cowan says.

"There's a different mindset especially in the first couple of weeks. I won't say we were trying to find our leader, but last year when you have a guy like Tom Brice who's been around for a while, and guys like Stefan Welch and Angus Roeger, who were missing for a few weeks this season, it did take us a couple of weeks to start bonding again."

During a consistent 2016/17, Cowan has hits in 29 of 39 games, and he led the league in doubles with 13. Developmental wise, he has more focus in his at-bats, with his walk count going up from four to 21 despite playing just 14 games more.

Much of his development came during his rehab journey through the Class A short season, Everett Aquasox, and Bakersfield Blaze. In 12 games for Everett, where he had played 120 games over two seasons in 2014-15, Cowan found familiar faces in the coaching department.

"I was away from my family for almost a full year; I mean I got to go home for Christmas and New Year's while I was hurt before my surgery but other than that it was good to see my family," Cowan says.

"I was able to live at home during my two weeks with Everett and it was nice.

"I was familiar with the coaching staff there - Rob Mummau and Brian Hunter. They helped me out and I had a great time with them the year before so being able to play for them… it couldn't have been a better coaching staff." 

 

In support of CanTeen Australia, Cowan rounds the bases at Adelaide Shores Baseball Complex. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL Media)

Moving up from Everett to Bakersfield, Cowan spent time alongside two familiar faces for Bite fans - Kyle Petty and Kody Kerski - however the trio and their team soon found out Bakersfield would be one of two teams dissolving from the California League and moving to the Carolina League.

"It was weird because we're getting people, the diehard fans, that really wanted the team to stay there," he says.

"As a player you feel bad for them, especially the people that have been loyal to the city and have been coming to a lot of games. You feel their pain because you're there every day with them so it sucked."

Bakersfield ultimately took out the second half of the California League North Division before being swept in the second round of playoffs as Visalia earned a Championship Series position.

"We finished very strong, we wish we could have won it all… but a city which also lost their team, High Desert, did win so I guess if you would say to choose another winner it would be them," Cowan says.

"We knew the feeling of our city seeing their team taken away from them and it was cool to see High Desert win the Championship for their last season. It was exciting all year; a great coaching staff, a great group of guys."

Having missed out on Adelaide's playoffs push last season, being able to play a full season with the Bite and help them finish second has been a huge reward for Cowan. It has not always been smooth sailing during the ABL season, though.

"There have definitely been some ups and downs but that's baseball for you," he says, "At the end of the day for me it's 'are you helping the team win?' 'are you making your routine plays? 'are you doing your things at the plate - are you battling for your team?

"Just because you don't get a hit doesn't mean you haven't helped your team win that day. You could do something defensively. Or even if you make an error that day you can help your team with the bat. You just try and stay positive."

Swing big - as a top order hitter, there was plenty of hits this season, and plenty of runs. (Ryan Schembri/SMP Images/ABL Media)

Fighting hard for his team all season as one of the most consistent players, Cowan has proved to himself he can follow through and make an impact after being forced off the field.

"You want to finish what you started and I felt like last year… not that I disappointed the team because it was a freak injury, it wasn't like I did something dumb, but it definitely sucked not being there and even supporting them at least," Cowan says.

"I was definitely watching though; I watched all the playoff games, they were late nights.

"You know in your head you should be there right now, helping the team win, doing your part. But I can't dwell on that; that's the past."

Now that he's been able to help Adelaide reach the postseason, there is a sense of achievement. Of course, performing well each game is a reward, but being able to see through a full season is the ultimate goal.

Regular hurdles have challenged the Bite, with Brisbane perhaps the toughest, and as Adelaide's biggest foe over the past two seasons it is fitting the season is on the line in Brisbane.

"We went 2-2 when we went to Brisbane: we played a great first two games and even the third one was good," Cowan says.

"We don't stop fighting. I mean, if you watched us last weekend, or even the Melbourne series, we didn't stop fighting until the last out."

With a fighting spirit throughout his own comeback journey, Cowan has worked on his own game and his team game. A true team player, he knows it is best to keep the game simple if you want to reach your full potential.

"It's a round ball and you're trying to hit it with a round bat," he says, "You gotta throw it across the diamond and the diamond's the same; 90 feet down the line, the mound is 60 feet, six inches.

"The goal for us is not to make the game bigger than what it is; it's still the same game. Just have fun, make the routine plays.

"Don't try and hit home runs and worry about that stuff. Do what you do, what you're good at, and it will all fall into place."

This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.