The rigors of life in the Minor Leagues have been well documented, whether it be the endless hours on the bus, subpar facilities or playing in less than savory locales across Middle America. Any player making the transition from amateur baseball to the professional ranks must find a way to adapt to their new reality quickly, or face a long walk to the manager’s office after being told ‘Skipper wants to see you.’ But for Storm pitcher Coby Cowgill, who once made that walk, mental toughness has never been an issue.
Coby D. Cowgill was born on March 23, 1991 in Norfolk, Virginia. “[Norfolk] is a beautiful town, right on the water,” Cowgill said. “I did a lot of fishing and hunting. My grandparents live there and that’s where I still call home.” Much of his youth was spent outdoors, and it was only a matter of time before Coby found his way to the diamond. “I fell in love as a young buck,” he reminisced. “I started playing when I was four. I played a lot of different sports when I was younger, but baseball was always that consistent sport that I played as much as possible.”
Cowgill’s high school career started as an eighth grader, when he played on the Junior Varsity team at Maury High School in Norfolk. Once he was officially a student at Maury, he spent the next four seasons as a member of the Varsity squad. Coby saw significant playing time both on the field and at the plate, hitting in the three-hole and leading the Commodores to the district’s regular season and tournament championships. Cowgill graduated from Maury with a career record of 19-6 with 279 strikeouts in 189 innings, and earned Second Team All-Tidewater accolades and an Eastern District Player of the Year honor in that championship season. On top of that, Coby found the time to letter in basketball and golf, and was initiated as a member of the National Honor Society. But baseball was his first love, and his achievements on the field earned him the attention of big league scouts. The Draft was not in the cards for him that time around, so Cowgill made the jump to college ball.
Coby enrolled at the Virginia Military Institute following his graduation from Maury. As a military academy, Cowgill lived something of a double life. “It’s full bore,” he commented when asked about how the college experience at VMI differs from a non-military school. “You’re up at seven in the morning for formation, you wear uniforms, you do full military activity on top of everything else.” Those sacrifices were worth it for the right-hander, who was thinking big picture when he made the decision to become a Keydet. “[VMI] has a great business school,” Coby continued. “I knew that if baseball didn’t pan out for some reason the alumni network there is very close and I’d be set moving forward.” Despite everything else, Cowgill’s primary focus was baseball. After coming in as a two-way player, the VMI coaching staff soon realized that he would be most valuable on the mound. “I remember one of my first starts [as a freshman],” Coby recalled. “It was St. Patrick’s Day, and we were down in Charleston playing The Citadel, one of our biggest rivals. Two upperclassmen came up to me and said ‘We really want you to win this game. We want to be able to go out tonight!’ And that night I pitched a complete game, allowing only one unearned run. That one really sticks out, because a freshman doesn’t usually get those opportunities. It was nice to deliver for the team.”
Coby’s success continued long after that St. Patrick’s Day start. He rose from a mid-week starter to the Friday night ace his sophomore season, and was ranked tenth in the Big South in ERA (3.73) and fourth in batting average against (.233). In March of that season, Cowgill pitched 23.1 innings and allowed just three earned runs. His junior year was nearly as productive, and his performance once again brought attention from Major League scouts. “It was kind of overwhelming to be honest,” Coby remembered when asked about the lead-up to draft day. “There was a different organization calling every week, and that was kind of a shock to me because I’ve never looked at myself as ‘that guy.’ I had to add all the phone calls and packets I had to fill out [for the scouts] on top of my school responsibilities, but we knocked it out before the season got going because I was focused on winning games for VMI. It was an exciting time.”
All of that preparation paid off, as Cowgill was selected in the twenty-third round of the 2012 Draft. But unlike most amateur players who spend draft day in front of the television, Coby spent it elsewhere. “I didn’t want to watch it at all,” he said. “I knew I’d drive myself crazy if I sat there watching the draft tracker, so I told myself that I’d be on the golf course.” Coby was on the links when he received the call from the Texas Rangers, and the whirlwind of a professional baseball career began.
Cowgill reported to Spokane to begin play with the short-season affiliate of the Rangers, but shoulder fatigue sent him to Arizona just one week after reporting to Washington. He spent three weeks in Arizona and was then sent to Low A Hickory in North Carolina, where he finished the 2012 season. His offseason was spent at school and prepping for Spring Training, and the following year he returned to Hickory. But less than two months into the season, Cowgill got ‘the call.’ “We were on the road, and I get a call into the manager’s office,” Coby remembered. “He told me I had been released, which was the biggest shock of my life. It kind of takes you by surprise and puts things in perspective.”
Despite the bad news, Cowgill’s agent found a new home for him within 24 hours of his release from the Rangers organization. After a weekend at home with his family, Coby reported to Eugene to begin his tenure with the Padres. He’s made steady progress since then, thanks in part to his mindset on the mound. “For me, the biggest thing is to be aggressive and pound the zone,” he said. “I try to pitch to my strengths and to [the hitter’s] weaknesses, but the biggest thing is not pitching tentatively and knowing that if I throw certain pitches and hit my spots, I’ll get people out.”
Since joining the Storm, Cowgill has posted a 3-1 record and a 4.56 ERA in five starts, and he has been an effective addition to the best pitching staff in the California League. As he continues to progress as a player, he knows that even small improvements can have big results. “One thing that’s really stuck with me in the past year or two is just to win each day,” Coby commented. “That can mean so many things, but don’t waste a day. You might not make huge strides, but you don’t want to take steps backwards. A big thing for me is to have a one track mind. Everything I do, I think of how it will relate to me as a baseball player. I just need to keep grinding and win the day.” With his focus fixed on the ultimate goal, Coby Cowgill goes about his business with one thing in mind: to see his name on the back of a Major League jersey. But until then, he’s just enjoying the ride.