Marco Island resident Kit Fowler wasn’t sure if the phone would ever ring.
After completing his senior season as a pitcher for the Tennessee Tech baseball team, Fowler thought he had a decent chance of getting taken in the Major League Baseball draft last month. After he went unpicked, he waited for a call from a big-league organization with an offer for a free-agent contract.
Frustrated, the pitcher went to work – doing window treatments on Marco Island for a friend’s business.
That same week he started his new job, he finally got the phone call he’d been waiting for. And although it wasn’t from a big-league organization, he got the chance to extend his baseball career, which is all he wanted.
Fowler signed a contract with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Boomers of the independent Frontier League last week, and began his pro baseball career with three scoreless innings of relief in Schaumburg’s 15-5 win over Southern Illinois last Thursday.
“I knew I was good enough to get drafted, but I also knew I was a bit old for the draft,” he said. “I’m 23 and most of the guys getting picked were 18, 19, 20-years old. I also had Tommy John surgery (on his elbow), so I guess I had that working against me as well. I didn’t think it was the end of the world, I actually thought I’d get a call from a (big-league) organization to sign with them. When that didn’t happen, either, I was looking for some way to play. It was stressful for a while, when the phone wasn’t ringing.”
That’s when he decided to take the job doing the window treatments.
“I was kind of sitting around at home, working out and waiting for the phone to ring,” he said. “I figured I should get out of the house and start making some money. I had kind of come to grips that nothing was going to happen. I had been working four days, got a call that Thursday (from Schaumburg) and they asked if I could be up there to sign a contract by Monday, and I said I could.”
The Frontier League and other independent minor leagues offer chances for players who weren’t drafted to showcase their skills. It also serves as a second-chance destination for players who had been cut from affiliated ball. Big-league teams frequently scout the independent leagues for talent, and several players have already been signed from the Boomers already this season.
“The talent-level is like Single-A, definitely similar to high-level Division I college programs, from what I’ve seen,” he said. “I pitched against teams like Florida State, Vanderbilt and Auburn this year. The guys in the league are super strong, you have to pitch them carefully. You can’t make mistakes or hang breaking balls or they’re going to hit them a long way. Talent wise, there’s a lot of good players in this league, a lot of guys that get picked up into big-league organizations.”
Fowler spent a few days in the Schaumburg bullpen, getting acclimated to life in pro ball. He was summoned into the seventh inning of Thursday’s game against the Southern Illinois Miners. He said he struggled a bit with his command during that first inning, which is to be expected in a professional debut.
“I had been told that in my first outing, I’d probably go one inning,” he said. “It had been awhile since I’d pitched, and they didn’t want to push me too far. I went into that first inning super nervous, as any person would be in their first professional game. I felt that first inning was ok, it wasn’t great. I came off the mound and our pitching coach (Anthony Smith) said I was throwing really good and asked if I wanted another (inning). I said ‘sure’ and I breezed right through the second inning. He asked me if I wanted to finish it off, and I did.”
Fowler didn’t allow a hit in those three innings, walking two and striking out four. He was credited with the save in his first professional game.
Fowler hadn’t pitched in about a month, and his fastball wasn’t yet to its top velocity. He averaged 88 to 90 miles per hour in his first pro game, down from the 90 to 93 he usually reached during the collegiate season.
“Overall, I felt pretty good about it, especially after not throwing for awhile,” he said. “I’m sure the velocity will come back up as I get out there more. That’s what happened during the season in college.”
Fowler says players in the Frontier League aren’t out there for the money. They’re in it for the love of the game and the belief they will get noticed by a major-league club. Fowler says he gets paid $600 a month, with room and board taken care of by the team via setting players up with local host families. He said he’s given meal money during road trips, but has to be smart with how he spends it.
“They give you an amount at the beginning of a road trip and you’ve got to make it last,” he said. “So you’re hitting up the dollar menus at fast-food places a lot.”
Since room and board is taken care of, Fowler uses his minimal monthly earnings toward food and gas for his vehicle. But he’s not about to complain.
“I just wanted a chance to play professionally, and now I’ve got that chance,” he said. “If you pitch well enough in this league and show you’ve got the skill to get guys out, you’re going to get picked up. And you don’t necessarily have to be someone who throws 95 miles per hour. If you can throw it 89 and 92 but show you can locate your fastball and mix up your pitches, you’re going to get noticed.”