Loewen accepts Ruthian challenge

It is defined as being fit or strong, muscular or active.

Yeah. I’m guessing Adam Loewen thinks there is a tad more to it.

There is being athletic, and there is undertaking the challenge Loewen has the past two baseball seasons, of owning enough skill to reach a professional level and talented enough to make a serious run back to the major leagues following the switch from pitcher to position player.

When you know how hard it is: When the first name always mentioned with such an endeavor is Babe Ruth.

“Some days, you think you have it figured out,” Loewen said. “That’s the worst thing for any baseball player to think — that anything is figured out. You can be the most unbelievable athlete around and then try hitting a baseball and not come close.”

His home for now is right field with the 51s. For as long as he could remember, it was on the nearest mound.

Loewen pitched parts of three seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, going 8-8 with an ERA of 5.38 in 164 innings, a former No. 4 draft pick from Vancouver, British Columbia, who was one of the few 6-foot-6-inch, 230-pound Canadians not gobbled up by the hockey gods.

So he has been to the place of five-star hotels and daily per diem that rivals the weekly salary of many, of everything young players dream about from the time they first grip a ball.

But then a stress fracture developed in his elbow, which for a pitcher can be like a disc jockey developing a persistent case of laryngitis. He had one surgery and promised himself there wouldn’t be a second, that if he could feel the elbow about to blow again, he would walk off the mound for good and pick up a bat.

He felt it in 2008. It blew again.

You have to understand that for six years, as so many other aspiring major leaguers were working on their swings daily off tees and against live pitching, Loewen barely hit at all.

He was an American League pitcher whose last extensive time in the batter’s box was as a junior college player in Florida holding an aluminum bat. He did have a few at-bats against Tom Glavine and the Mets in an interleague game once. Grounded out twice.

It’s safe to say, then, Loewen’s has been a fast but frustrating learning curve at age 27, trying on one hand to drive pitches while first picking up signs from his manager.

What was the indicator again?

Did he touch his nose once or twice?

What does it mean if he wipes his hat?

Can someone tell him to slow down?

“In some ways it’s like he’s in rookie ball where we need to walk him through some things and, in others, when you see his size and athletic ability and flashes of power, he has big league (tools),” 51s manager Marty Brown said. “And then there is a lot in between the two. It takes patience, not only from us but especially on Adam’s part. He’s trying to figure out the other side of the game, and it’s difficult.

“He is meeting the challenge. He is working hard. But without his natural (athleticism), it couldn’t be done.”

Here’s how hard it is: Only two players in history — Ruth and Rick Ankiel of the Nationals — have started a postseason game as a pitcher and hit a home run in one as a position player.

Loewen hit .236 at Single-A Dunedin two seasons ago and .246 at Double-A New Hampshire last year. He has 19 home runs since making the switch, including a three-run, opposite-field shot against Salt Lake on Wednesday night at Cashman Field.

He also made two errors in a game Monday against Fresno, dropping a fly ball in the ninth inning that helped the Grizzlies rally and tie a game the 51s won in 10. The baby steps continue.

You watch his left-handed swing and realize, no, he does not have everything figured out. It’s more mechanical than fluid, devoid at times of the instinctual nature that comes with years of honing what is arguably the toughest skill to master in all of sports.

But to reach this level in such a short time from making the switch speaks to Loewen’s athletic gifts. He played basketball as a youngster. Volleyball. Hockey. Of course, hockey.

“I’ve always looked at (making the switch) as an opportunity more than as my pitching career ended,” Loewen said. “I look at it as my hitting career is just getting started. It has been a success so far. I’m in Triple A.

“If it ends here, I’d be disappointed, but it’s not the most important thing in my life. There is family, God, so many things you can put in front of baseball. But it’s my profession, and I want to give it my all and be successful at it. I fully believe I can be a major league-caliber (position) player.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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