Bourne Braves starting pitcher Ricky Bowen grew up in a northern Alabama community that idolized pigskin and football Saturdays. In the town of Jasper, Alabama, it was Auburn or the Crimson Tide of Alabama—nothing else mattered much.
Still, the strong football influence couldn’t keep Ricky away from the baseball diamond, or the place he felt the most comfortable, the pitcher’s mound.
“Baseball was what fit for me,” Bowen said. “I just loved pitching and I grew up with the sport.”
After his eighth grade season, Ricky enrolled in the town’s public high school and was set on contributing as a pitcher.
“After just a few practices the coach called me aside and told me I couldn’t pitch,” the 6'3" right hander said. “He told me that I was a shortstop.”
Not giving up on his dream of one day being a starting pitcher in the MLB, Ricky decided to transfer to a private school in the Jasper area, Sumiton Christian High School.
It’s more than likely that Ricky used his former coach’s criticism as motivation, as the hurler spun himself an impressive career at Sumiton as a starter. In his junior season, Bowen led the team to a state championship title, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
It was in his junior season that college scouts began to take notice of Bowen and his championship delivering right arm, not long after he had been told that he couldn’t pitch at the high school level.
Then came the offers.
“I was low-key recruit; under the radar. I wasn’t getting much hype from a lot of scouts and I wasn’t at the top of their lists,” Bowen explained.
Ricky received offers from SEC powerhouses Mississippi State and Auburn, and schools such as Troy, Northern Alabama, Samford, and Southeast Missouri State.
Bowen ultimately chose to become a ‘Dawg and play for legendary coach Ron Polk at Mississippi State University.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play for the coach Polk and the tradition at MSU really sold me,” Bowen added. “Polk is one of baseball’s true originators and helped turn the SEC into the dominant conference that it is today.”
Bowen certainly gets to face top competition playing in the SEC. Bowen further explained that there can be no slacking in conference play and each team has to bring their “A” game every weekend.
“Hands down, it’s the top conference from top to bottom,” said Bowen.
Ricky’s decision to play for Mississippi State certainly paid off in his red-shirt freshman season as the team advanced to Omaha, Nebraska to play in the 2007 College World Series.
Although the Bulldogs didn’t return to Starkville with any hardware, their experience was second to none.
Bowen, primarily a starter, was called from the bullpen and threw two and two-thirds scoreless innings against runner-up North Carolina.
“We didn’t win that game but coming in from the ‘pen and shutting them down was a great experience,” Ricky said. “It’s every kid’s dream to play in the College World Series and it’s almost surreal when you’re playing in Rosenblatt.”
Bowen has had his share of ups and downs with the Braves this year, but reminds himself of what an honor it is just to be on the Cape.
“There is a lot of hype around this league and I keep telling myself that the mound out there is still 60 feet, six inches from home and the bases are 90 feet apart,” Bowen said with a laugh.
When asked where he wanted to be 10 years from now, his answer—that he wanted to be a big league starter, on any team—was no surprise.
Ricky was chosen by the Cincinnati Reds in the 38th round of this past June’s amateur draft as a sophomore eligible.
Bowen explained that he’s unsure of where he will be this fall, whether it be in the Red’s organization, or back in Starkville with his Bulldog teammates, but that he is having a lot of fun in the process.
“I’m being recruited by MSU twice as hard now as I was out of high school because they would like me to stay,” Bowen added.
Bowen will be a crucial piece of the Braves’ puzzle as they head into the final stretch of the season, with hopes of a playoff berth come week two of August.