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2014-04-09 / Sports

From the mound up

Once overlooked, an unheralded left-hander makes his mark
By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER

Joey Lowery’s baseball career is a testament to the power of perseverance.

Unlike many of his peers in the Manchester High baseball program, Lowery wasn’t identified as a future star while he was still in Little League.

Even though Lowery threw left-handed and liked pitching – two traits that are usually enough for a baseball player to grab somebody’s attention – he was never considered particularly gifted or naturally athletic.

As a freshman at Manchester, Lowery wasn’t good enough to make the final cut on what turned out to be a deep, talented junior varsity squad.

But Dustin Felvus, then the Lancers’ JV baseball coach, saw something in Lowery – something, perhaps, that none of his prior coaches had observed: potential.

During a meeting with Lowery after the final JV roster was posted, Felvus offered him a chance to be a team manager.

Manager? Seriously?

“I took it bad in the beginning,” Lowery acknowledged during an interview last week. “I didn’t really want to do it. Then I sat down and thought, ‘I should take advantage of this opportunity.’”

In exchange for carrying equipment, keeping the scorebook during games or performing any number of other tasks, Lowery got to come to practice every day and work out with the rest of the team.

He took what seemed like a gazillion cuts in the batting cage. He ran all of the sprints and performed each of the drills. He acquired some valuable baseball knowledge, both from his coaches and by simply observing how the team’s more experienced players carried themselves.

The only things he didn’t get to do were wear a uniform and play in games – in other words, the two things that make sports fun.

“That was the worst part; I can’t stand not being able to do something,” Lowery said.

Still, Lowery didn’t quit and didn’t complain.

As a sophomore, he not only made the JV roster, he was selected as the starting pitcher for Manchester’s season-opening game.

It was his first time in the spotlight, and he made the most of it. Others may have had more pop on their fastballs or break on their curveballs, but Lowery quickly established himself as the Lancers’ most consistent hurler.

By last spring, he barely resembled the quiet kid who had gotten cut as a freshman.

He had grown 6 inches since entering high school and had worked hard to improve his conditioning. The result was a lean, 6-foot- 4-inch lefty who threw a little bit harder than anyone expected.

He earned a spot on the Manchester varsity and even got to pitch during the Lancers’ loss to James River in the Dominion District tournament semifinals.

Last summer, he put himself on the radar of college scouts with a strong performance for South Richmond Post 137’s American Legion team.

This season, the senior is No. 3 in the Lancers’ pitching rotation and its top lefthander.

“Really, everything he’s achieved, he’s done it himself through hard work and motivation,” Manchester coach Ricky Saunders said. “Nobody gave him anything.”

Lowery’s work ethic extends beyond the baseball diamond. Even though he has either a game or practice every day after school, he holds two part-time jobs and still finds time to do homework.

“I have the most respect for him of anybody on our team,” said senior catcher Evan Roberts, who’s been Lowery’s teammate for the past three years. “He’s definitely the hardest worker.”

Lowery shrugs off such compliments with a humble grin. You can tell he’s still not quite accustomed to being singled out for his baseball ability.

Asked what his reaction would have been three years ago if somebody had told him he’d graduate from Manchester and have an opportunity to play baseball in college, Lowery didn’t hesitate.

“I never would’ve believed it,” he said.

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