Illinois pitcher successful with Grizzlies

By Erik Hall

SAUGET, Ill. – In three years as an Illinois pitcher, Ted Rowe never experienced the pressure of a playoff game. This summer, he finally got his chance.

Rowe graduated in May and joined the Gateway Grizzlies, a Frontier League team from Sauget, Ill. In his first professional season, Rowe and the Grizzlies qualified for the playoffs.

“It’s exciting,” Rowe said. “I haven’t had this opportunity the last three years. We had good talent (at Illinois), but it was just one thing or another. It just didn’t work out for us. This is exciting – my first professional experience and we’re in the playoffs and having a chance to go on to the championship.”

The Grizzlies finished their season Sunday with a 7-3 loss to the Rockford Riverhawks. The Riverhawks beat the Grizzlies three games to two.

With the season over, Rowe plans to return for Sunday’s alumni baseball game on Illinois Field at 12:15 p.m.

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“Their roster was full when I came,” Rowe said. “They said, ‘We’ll call you if something comes up.’ I was driving back home to Peoria. About two hours after I left, they called me in the fourth inning of their game. Their starting pitcher had a bad outing. They’re like, ‘Are you here?’ I said, ‘No, but I can be there.’ They released that pitcher and picked me up that day.”

After Rowe joined the team, the Grizzlies won 63 percent of their games to earn one of two spots in the West Division playoffs.

“He brought a spark,” said Grizzlies manager Danny Cox. “I try to find the best players I can, whether they’re righties or lefties. I’m able to put him in a situation, whether we’re winning or losing, and he’ll either hold the lead or hold them where they’re at to give us a chance to win.”

Rowe pitched in 15 games as a relief pitcher during the regular season and had a 1.76 ERA. He struck out 28 batters in 30 2/3 innings. Rowe pitched in three of the Grizzlies’ five playoff games.

“I’m not doing anything I didn’t try to do at Illinois,” Rowe said. “I had a little tendonitis in my shoulder last spring and it finally started feeling better the last game at school this year.

“In all honesty, as far as the way I’m throwing, I’m doing a lot of the things (Illinois pitching) coach (Dan) Hartleb told me to do. I’m just doing it with more movement on the ball and I’m hitting my spots better because my arm feels better, and that’s been the difference.”

For his efforts, Rowe earned $600 per month, but as a professional athlete, every state he plays in takes out taxes.

“No one is playing in this league unless they want to play,” Rowe said.

Rowe said he benefited from playing for Cox this summer and would like to return to the Grizzlies.

Cox is a former member of the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched in the 1985 and 1987 World Series.

“He’s a guy who has been there and done that,” Rowe said. “I definitely listen to what he has to say.”

The former Illinois pitcher corrected a habit of bouncing his hands after he came set on the mound. Cox trained Rowe to look at the catcher’s glove sooner before he delivers a pitch.

“Now he’s more consistent in the strike zone,” Cox said. “His ball is really reliable. He’s got a nice breaking ball; he’s got a good, hard sinking fastball. Before, he wasn’t throwing a lot of them in the strike zone.”

Deciding if he will return to the Grizzlies next spring could be difficult for Rowe. He has now proven to himself that he can play above the college level, but his highest potential has yet to be seen.

“I came in wanting a chance to try and if it didn’t work out, I could at least stop playing baseball knowing I tried,” Rowe said. “As it turns out, I’ve had a real good year. I’m leaving it right now with the feeling that I could play at the next level.”