EHT teammates, coaches never underestimated value of shortstop Andrew FowlerBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
For most high school athletes who don’t earn a starting job until after their junior season has started, the best they can hope for is to become a role player. In that short of a time frame, there aren’t many who can put up all-South Jersey type of numbers by the time they are seniors.
But Egg Harbor Township’s Andrew Fowler is a grinder. He knew after getting a starting job at second base as a junior — and playing good, but not great, baseball — that he had to work a lot harder if he wanted to be an impact player. He’s a small guy, so he realized he had to hit the weight room and spend a lot more time in the batting cages.
“I was putting in countless hours that I wasn’t putting in before, and it paid off. Over the summer, I spent a lot of time in the cages, several hours a day. That made a big difference. I went from 12 hits my junior year to about 34 as a senior,” said Fowler, who helped lead the Eagles to a 20-5 season that included a berth in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals. “The weight room helped a lot, too. I spent a lot of time in there, then I would go over and hit every day.”
“He’s a great kid. I was a little disappointed when the Philadelphia Inquirer All-South Jersey stuff came out. One thing reporters don’t get to see when we do the voting is how the numbers come out. He was the second-leading vote getter behind (Millville’s) Buddy Kennedy for the infielders,” said Eagles coach Bryan Carmichael. “And I understand, St. Augustine Prep won the Diamond Classic and Non-Public A South, but at the end of the day, Fowler was the second-leading vote getter out of all the infielders in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference behind a (MLB) fifth-round draft pick, so there’s something to be said for that.”
Egg Harbor Township was loaded with talent this year. Sophomore Jordan Sweeney had a breakout season and probably will be named all-state, and guys such as Nick Milhan, Connor Agostino and Kyle Transue formed one of the more powerful middle-of-the-order lineups in the CAL. So it was easy for teams, fans and local publications to overlook what Fowler did on a daily basis, because it wasn’t flashy. It was just consistently good.
“He’s a kid — and I said this at our banquet — he is the epitome of what I think an Egg Harbor Township baseball player should be. He’s a kid who is constantly overlooked because he is a little small in stature, so not many people think of him as a good baseball player. He’s always been a small kid, and I think that’s the theme of the story. He’s always been overlooked, but he is a true baseball player. That’s the best compliment I can give that kid. He comes to practice every day and does all the little things the right way. If you need a guy to put a sacrifice bunt down, Andrew is the guy. He’s going to make all the routine plays and do all the fundamental things the right way. At the end of the day, he ended up being a great player for us — and I might get myself in trouble for saying this — but probably the biggest piece of the puzzle that we’ll have to replace next year,” Carmichael said. “We preach to the kids that we have to dominate the routine play, and Andrew did that for us this year. And he’s a true No. 2 hitter. He’s going to be able to hit behind guys, sacrifice bunt when you need him to. He ended up hitting in the leadoff spot for us out of necessity because we didn’t really have anyone else who was a true leadoff hitter.”
At about 5-foot-7 and maybe 150 pounds, Fowler was by no means intimidating at the plate, but he used that to his advantage. Pitchers would think they could overpower him, but he would just spray hits all over the yard. He finished the year hitting nearly .420 with 34 hits and 29 runs scored.
“Confidence is key, especially moving over to shortstop. Once I got it down, I got confident and everything picked up, even at the plate,” Fowler said. “I started off the year going 4-for-4 in the first game and that was huge, because if I had gone 0-for-4, I would have been tough on myself.”
And having early confidence at the plate helped him out defensively, too.
“He did a great job last year at second base when we brought him up as a junior, so we thought we’d try to see if he could be our shortstop. Once we put him there, it was just evident that he was the guy. It was still a work in progress as we were about three quarters of the way through the season,” Carmichael said. “One game, he made a play up the middle and tried to contort his body to throw the ball to first base, and he ended up throwing the ball away. The next day in practice, I said to him, ‘hey Andrew, next time something like that happens, put your right foot in the ground and kind of twirl around and pivot and you’ll be able to make that throw.’ The next game, on another ball up the middle, he does it and everybody in the place goes nuts. His first reaction was he looked in the dugout and kind of smiled at me.”
A smile was easy to see on Fowler’s face throughout much of the season. He was having individual success, and the team was winning. The Eagles got past Kingsway, 4-0, in the opening round of the playoffs, then blasted Clearview Regional in the second round, 15-6, before the run came to an end with a 3-2 loss to Southern Regional in the sectional semifinals.
“I had a blast. This was the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball, with this group of seniors and it being our last year together. We’ve been playing together since we were 6 or 7 years old. It’s been great,” Fowler said. “Win or lose, we had a blast. We had a great time down in Myrtle Beach (during spring break). Practices were fun, and we were winning, which made it even better.”
Carmichael said early on how important Fowler was going to be to this team’s success.
“I told him at the beginning of May that he would be the toughest kid in the program for us to replace next year, just because of the way his senior season was going. With what he did offensively, with what he brought to the table for us defensively,” Carmichael said. “Part of the reason we went 20-5 this year was that we were able to defend. We dominated the routine play. In 25 games, we only made 36 errors, and that’s by far the least amount we’ve made in my seven years of coaching here. That’s the name of the game, defense and pitching.”
Even tougher to replace will be just Fowler’s everyday presence. High school baseball coaches love having guys who can’t wait to get to the ballpark every day, and Fowler certainly was that kind of guy for the Eagles.
“He’s the first kid at practice every day. I put up a jobs chart in the beginning of the year in regard to setting up for practice. Whatever he’s in charge of, it’s being done, because he enjoys being out here,” Carmichael said. “He’s a baseball player. He’s a ball player, and that’s the best compliment you can give a guy.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays