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HYDE: Classy Lowell a humble pro

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HYDE: Classy Lowell a humble pro

Published March 5, 2004



On one of those days you're feeling down, or out, or just wondering if you've been dealt an unfair hand in life and won't ever reach that shimmering dream of yours, here's a simple thing to do:


Watch Mike Lowell play baseball.


That's it. Just watch the guy play. He's one of the feel-good stories in South Florida sports right now. Watch his effort, his passion, his professionalism. Watch how he never slacks off and never whines, no matter if he breaks his hand during a pennant run or needs to be shot up with pain-killers just to throw a baseball in October.


"He's a pro," Marlins manager Jack McKeon says flatly, like there's no bigger compliment, which of course there isn't in a baseball clubhouse.


To put this in full context, look at one more thing about Lowell. Look at all the reasons he had for not standing at third base for the Marlins today.


Everyone knows about his fight against testicular cancer a few years back, as well as the scare last summer it may have returned. That's the kind of heavyweight opponent most of us don't have to face.


But it's the simple, every-day hurdles Lowell overcame that anyone can relate to and everyone would be well served to notice. We tend to miss stories like this. We typically think players of Lowell's stature -- an All-Star, a 100-RBI guy, someone now with the big-money contract of his dreams -- were always the biggest fish in the pond.


But did you know Lowell batted ninth at Coral Gables High his junior year? Ninth. And that he was delighted just to play? Did you know the University of Miami thought so little of his game it offered a $3,000 academic scholarship, which crushed him because he grew up a mile from its baseball field and always dreamed of playing there?


Did you know Lowell hit just 12 home runs in three college seasons ("Some guys do that in a month," he says), or hit .204 in his first summer using a wooden bat ("Got four hits in the final game to reach that," he says) or had just one home run in his first minor league season (To be fair, it was just 72 games).


And did you know, as a high school sophomore, he was cut from his Columbus High team in Miami?


"Well, I wasn't technically cut, but I didn't play, so I consider it the same thing," he said. "The coach said I stunk."


He was a sophomore. And he wasn't alone. His teammate in benched frustration: Alex Rodriguez. That's right, maybe the best player on the planet today. Hey, Michael Jordan got cut from his junior-high team, too.


Lowell remembers a meeting with then-Columbus coach Brother Herb Baker.


"He told me that, `We can both see that [Rodriguez]doesn't belong at this level,'" Lowell said. "But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he had some kind of foreshadowing. He knew even then that A-Rod belonged in the super-human level of the major leagues even then."


Lowell was upset at not playing, but not because his big-league dream was in trouble.


"I wasn't thinking about the major leagues," he said. "I wasn't thinking about college. I just wanted to play baseball. That's it. I just wanted to play."


Rodriguez transferred to Westminster Christian in Dade, where he would go on to be the top pick in the 1993 Amateur Draft. Lowell transferred to Coral Gables, where he eventually would star at Florida International, then become a 20th-round pick, then hit eight home runs in his first full season in the pros, then ...


Do you see how slowly he bloomed? Do you understand what baby steps he kept taking?


"Physically, I was always overmatched," he said.


He remembers, at 16, his first driver's license listed him at 5 feet 7 and 130 pounds. Maybe that's why he hates the "tools" manner used to rate players -- as if things such as arm strength and foot speed alone can measure whether you can play.


He grew incrementally from there. He sprouted to 6-3 but still only weighed 180 pounds at Class A Greensboro when someone finally suggested he could play in the majors. This was 1996. His manager, Jimmy Johnson, noticed how the ball jumped off his bat and the sound it made. Lowell, you see, always could hit. But Johnson said he'd hit with power.


"You'll see," he told Lowell. "You'll grow into your body, you'll gain 20 pounds and your fly balls to the warning track will be home runs. You'll see."


He gained 20 pounds that offseason. Lowell started to see what we all do now. He can hit for power. He can play a stellar third base (his size always put him at second base as a kid). And the same attitude that took him through the trying times stays with him in the good ones.


What did he say, after recovered from a broken hand last October, when he was kept out of the lineup and asked if he should replace the hot-hitting Miguel Cabrera?


"How can you not root for The Kid?" Lowell said then.


That's Lowell, right there. He doesn't see himself as the power hitter others do. He doesn't see himself as the $8 million a year player others do. In some ways, he still sees himself as the undersized kid who had to earn what he got, dodging life's curves every step of the way.


Dave Hyde can be reached at [email protected].



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Lowell has always been my second favorite Marlins player of all time and it really is awesome to watch the guy play. He may never be a big name like Dan Marino or Alonzo Mourning in South Florida sports, but he should be up there. He is South Florida's biggest star right now IMO.

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