Beavers: Bowen Was a 1956 Toledo Grad Who Went on to Play in the Cleveland Indians Minor League System
TOLEDO — Don Bowen’s athletic accomplishments read like a grocery list; it goes on and on.
So was no surprise to anyone who knows him that Toledo High School was renaming its baseball field after him, including the dozens of friends and family who gathered at the field to watch the dedication Thursday night.
The only person surprised was Bowen himself, who never imagined he’d have a field named after him one day.
“It’s amazing,” said the 82-year-old Bowen. “It’s quite an honor, that’s for sure. I’m surprised to see this many people. Pretty special. I appreciate it. Quite a day to be here.”
Bowen, a 1956 Toledo alumnus, was a baseball and basketball standout for the Indians growing up, eventually playing in the Cleveland Indians’ minor league system.
But Bowen’s athletic career nearly came to an end before it ever started. Bowen broke his hip in a tractor rollover injury as a freshman. Doctors said he may never walk again. It didn’t stop Bowen.
From the Beginning
He would bat his freshman year with a steel brace that went over his arm and down his leg and let another player run for him once he got a hit. Even during basketball practice he would let shots go with that steel brace on. Over the course of two years, through sheer willpower, Bowen eventually regained his walking — and much more.
He helped the Indians basketball team capture the league and county championships his senior year, as well as earning their first trip to state in school history.
Bowen went on to have a storied career at Centralia College, where he played both basketball and baseball. He was inducted into the Centralia College Hall of Fame in 1990 for both sports.
In the summer during his college years, he played semi-pro baseball for the Pacific Sand and Gravel Pavers. It was there in 1959 that Cleveland Indians scout Carl Mays noticed Bowen and offered him a contract with a $1,500 signing bonus and a salary of $500 a month, plus room and board.
Bowen would go on to play in the Indians’ minor league system in Florida, Alabama and Iowa. One of his roommates was Tommy John, a 26-year MLB player who the Tommy John surgery is named after. Former Seattle Mariners manager Lou Pinella was his roommate at one point and the legendary Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams was one of Bowen’s hitting coaches. He was released by Cleveland after two years.
His athletic career wasn’t over yet. Bowen went on to play in fastpitch softball leagues, namely in Longview where there were 26 teams across four divisions. He was selected to the all-state team during the state tournament his first season playing and was eventually recruited to the best team in Longview, the Shamrock. There he racked up numerous MVP and all-state honors. Bowen was inducted into the Longview Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame in 2007.
During his time playing for Shamrock, Bowen began to notice problems with his vision. He was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Bowen, no stranger to setbacks, always lived by a saying: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ and he never made excuses for his MS, longtime high school friend Butch Hayrynen said, even with the disease confined Bowen permanently to a wheel chair.
He would go on to play an instrumental role in the formation of T-ball in Toledo, and coached various Babe Ruth and Little League teams over the years.
In His Honor
Bowen, flanked by his two sons, Scott and Tracy Bowen, sat surrounded by friends and family just beyond the left field fence for the unveiling of the sign that bore his name and a photo of him adorned in a baseball uniform during his younger days.
The sign, made of vertical-grain cedar, was built and designed by Jeff Philbrook, Bill Moore, Ron Smith, Mike Stover, Joe Notch and Bowen’s brother Loren Bowen.
Those who knew Bowen took turns speaking to the crowd about what kind of person he is and the type of player he once was.
Longtime friend J.P. Matlick learned the other side of Bowen that didn’t involve sports. Twenty years ago, Matlick fell on hard times. He went broke, lost the company he owned, his wife left him and his kids had moved out of state. He was sitting at rock bottom and alone. One day the phone rang and it was Bowen. Matlick began telling Bowen about everything that had happened to him and Bowen said, ‘Just shut up. I want to tell you something. Don’t you ever give up. Don’t ever give up.’
“It turned my life around,” Matlick said.
Ken Anderson, Toledo School District’s superintendent from 1976-84, played with Bowen in the late 1950s on the Pavers’ semi-pro team.
“The thing I remember most about Don was his courage and fairness whenever he played,” Anderson said. “Suffering the injury he did and still being an outstanding player, represents the great courage he had inside of him. He represented not only Toledo, but the whole Lewis County area as best it could be represented.”