Bob Rowand remembers when his son, Aaron, would come to watch his men's slow-pitch softball games, often playing after the team had forfeited on account of being short-handed.
If he didn't have his own travel team practice or game, the barely 10-year-old Aaron helped players warm up. If he got the chance to play, he often showed them up.
"He played better than a lot of the grownups," Bob recalled. "So he worked on his skills."
Both the attention to detail and talent came to fruition as Aaron Rowand evolved from highly touted prospect to certified Major Leaguer.
Bob Rowand also fondly reflects on cross-country trips to places like Hickory, N.C., and Birmingham, Ala. They weren't exactly vacation hot spots, but summer destinations for the Rowand clan nonetheless. The California natives would travel far and wide in the summers of 1999-2001 to see Aaron evolve into a successful baseball player.
"It was his dream come true," Rowand said of the fateful day the Chicago White Sox selected Aaron with the 35th pick of the '98 Draft. "He made us all cry and we were all excited. We couldn't wait for the next step in his life. He competed well in high school and in college and stuff, and now it was on to the Minor Leagues."
In those days, Bob and his wife would go to games and count the players ahead of their son in the White Sox farm system, a list that grew shorter and shorter as Aaron sped through the list of affiliates.
After being drafted, the 20-year-old Rowand jumped to Class A Hickory, where he hit. 342 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 61 games. The small sample size was enough for Chicago to promote Rowand to Class A Advanced Winston-Salem for the following season, where the outfielder got his first full year as a pro under his belt. Rowand responded accordingly, leading the Warthogs in doubles (37), homers (24) and RBIs (88), posting a .279 batting average in 133 games.
Given his impressive stats, it was little surprise when Rowand opened the 2000 season at Double-A, where he continued to churn out solid power numbers. In 139 games, Rowand slugged 20 homers and drove in 98 runs for Birmingham.
And while a Minor League life filled with long bus rides and trips to small towns in Iowa and Alabama can take a mental and physical toll, Bob Rowand never once heard his son complain.
"I can't remember any times that he was up against the wall or wanted to get out of baseball," Bob said.
"He just has the desire and energy about him that doesn't stop. He'd be the first one to practice and the last one to leave all the time. There were times even during high school; we would go back after practice at 8 p.m. to the batting cages."
"It was just nonstop," Bob said of Aaron's work ethic. "He would go until his hands would bleed almost."
That work ethic would prove to be Rowand's calling card in the years to come.
By spring 2001, the future National League All-Star looked primed to break through to the big leagues. After a solid Spring Training with the White Sox, Rowand was one of baseball's top prospects in Triple-A Charlotte, lighting up International League pitching to the tune of a .526 slugging percentage. The 23-year-old hit 16 homers and drove in 48 runs in 62 games before the big leagues came calling.
Rowand made his Major League debut for the White Sox on June 16, 2001 as a pinch hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals. And as Bob Rowand watched from a TV set at a local watering hole in California, his heart swelled with pride.
"He wanted give 100 percent every time when he was on the field," Rowand said of what he thinks set his son apart from the thousands of aspiring Major Leaguers. "And he still does that. Nowadays, he tries to teach that to others."
Rowand moved on to the Phillies for a couple years and has spent the past two seasons with the Giants. But the attention to detail and the hard work ethic has not abated.
Minor League career breakdown
1998: Chicago selected Rowand with the 35th overall pick, he was in Class A Hickory later that year. In 61 games, he hit .342 with five homers and 32 RBIs.
1999: In his first full pro season, Rowand led Class A Advanced Winston-Salem in doubles (37), homers (24) and RBIs (88), posting a .279 batting average. |
2000: Rowand continued to put up big power numbers at Double-A, hitting 20 homers and driving in 98 runs in 139 games with Birmingham. |
2001: With his stock rising, Rowand opened the year at Triple-A Charlotte, where he hit .295 with 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 82 games before he was called up.|