Photo: Jillian Souza

Together since the Classic

Matt Rodriguez

Published: Friday, August 15, 2014

GWINNETT, Ga. - Four years after getting their time to shine on amateur baseball’s biggest stage, 2010 Perfect Game All-American Classic alumni and current battery mates Henry Owens and Blake Swihart sat in a Longhorn Steakhouse on Sunday night reminiscing over their Petco Park experience while watching this year’s high school stars enjoy their time in the limelight. Four years after playing in the prestigious nationally televised classic, the two former kids from the West squad find themselves teammates once again on the Boston Red Sox Triple-A affiliate Pawtucket Red Sox.

“We were actually watching it and he was talking about how he came in in the ninth inning and threw the rosin bag to home plate instead of behind the mound,” said Swihart. “He’s just a goofball and getting that early chemistry together has helped.”

“I remember that game really well,” said Owens. “I pitched in the ninth. It was very fun waiting the whole game to pitch.”

It was at the 2010 PG All-American Classic where many professional scouts were warmed with the idea that Owens could someday be an ace at the professional level. Owens put an exclamation mark on the closing line at the Classic, striking out the side in his one inning to shine. Swihart also proved he could hit first-round-quality pitching when he singled up the middle in the fifth inning off of Deshorn Lake.

“It was a lot of fun,” Swihart said. “The group of guys we had are pretty much all in pro ball and the event itself was put on really well. The guys that were there just went out and had fun and I think that’s what they’re doing today.”

Notable alumni from the 2010 PG All-American Classic include Chicago Cubs’ Javier Baez, who just recently made his Major League debut, Vanderbilt standout and recent first round draft pick Tyler Beede, last year’s National League Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, as well as a pair of professional arms in Archie Bradley and Dylan Bundy, to name a few.

Nineteen players from Oklahoma, California, Washington, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, and New Mexico came together to form the West squad that year. Swihart, from New Mexico, and Owens, from California, were already familiar with each other. They’d spent five previous weeks together as members of the first place 2010 18u USA National Team, where Swihart led the team in batting average (.448) and home runs (5) and Owens earned three wins in four starts and struck out 31 hitters through 19 1/3 innings of work.

Just months after spending essentially the entire summer as teammates, fate would bring the battery mates together once again. Swihart was taken 26th overall by the Boston Red Sox in the 2011 MLB Draft, becoming the highest drafted player out of New Mexico since Shane Andrews in 1990, and Owens was selected ten picks later in the compensation round by the Red Sox.

“It was special,” said Swihart. “I had a bunch of friends and family with me and to take that all in with them was very special.”

“It was a very fun time and a little nerve-racking at the start, but once my name got called it was just a fun all-around night with my family and friends,” Owens added.

Both enjoyed incredible success on the Perfect Game circuit before the draft, allowing them to play with the best amateur talent in the game while getting copious exposure from professional scouts and college recruiting coordinators.

“Just seeing the pitchers on the mound and catching those pitchers and just getting to be at that level of competition really helped,” said Swihart.

Both attended the 2010 Perfect Game National Showcase, which was held at the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field that year and was also attended by the likes of Javier Baez, Jose Fernandez, and Rougned Odor, all whom are in the Major Leagues. It was also the first time either Owens or Swihart had played on a Major League field.

“It’s cool to take in the atmosphere and you get to feel like a big leaguer for a day,” Swihart recalled.

One of Owens’ fondest Perfect Game memories came in his first ever PG event: the 2009 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. when his Braves Scout Team, made up of a core of players from Owens’ ABD Bulldogs team, won the WWBA World Championship, 7-1, with Owens on the mound.

“I remember the dog pile when we won it all,” said Owens. “I got pretty bruised up on the bottom of it, but it was worth it.”

Owens earned Most Valuable Pitcher honors at the tournament, where he threw nine shutout innings, giving up just four hits while striking out 12.

Blake Swihart was named the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
They’ve both continued on to achieve high levels of success at the Minor League levels throughout their young, but promising careers. Just last year, Swihart was named a High-A Carolina League All-Star and earned Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year honors after throwing out a Carolina League-leading 42-percent would-be base stealers.

This year, both players have made headlines once more. Both starting in the Double-A Eastern League for the Portland Seadogs, Swihart was named an Eastern League All-Star while his buddy, Owens, got the nod to start the SiriusXM All-Star Futures game for the US team this past July at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn.

Then came the trade deadline, which was highlighted by a plethora of big-time moves by the Boston Red Sox that seriously depleted their starting rotation, sending ace Jon Lester to the Oakland Athletics, Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants, John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals, and Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs.

In order to fill many holes to the Boston rotation, pitchers who started the year in Pawtucket have been called upon to pitch for the big club. Guys like Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, and Rubby De La Rosa have filled in the for departed veterans, leaving opportunities for players like Owens to make an impression at the next level.

On August 1st, the day after the trade deadline, Owens was called up from Portland to Pawtucket, leaving behind Swihart in Portland. That didn’t last long, however, as Swihart was called up to Triple-A just three days later, in time to catch Owens’ first Triple-A start.

“He’s really good behind the dish not only calling pitches, but defensively, he can throw out runners and block baseballs at any point in the game,” Owens said.

Owens won his Triple-A debut, going 6 2/3 innings and giving up just two hits and three walks while striking out nine in a 5-0 win against Columbus. The following day, Swihart collected his first Triple-A hit off of Cleveland Indians pitcher Zach McAllister, proving that wherever he and his battery mate go, they will find a way to positively impact the team.

“Just going out and having to play at a high level every day makes you better as a player,” said Swihart.

“We’ll see what happens along the road, but right now I’m just focused on being here in Pawtucket,” Owens added. “It’s a prestigious organization with a great fan base all over the country.”

Incredible young talent is just around the corner for the Red Sox, who have their top four prospects all with Triple-A Pawtucket right now, with Owens and Swihart ranked No. 2 and No. 3. If the trend continues and Owens and Swihart remain battery mates, the Red Sox could be getting an exciting pitcher-catcher combination in the near future.

“Honestly, it’s pretty surreal that we’re still battery mates and hopefully he’s catching me for a long time,” Owens said.

“He makes the game fun and the chemistry that we have together is great,” added Swihart.

The duo are ideal representatives of the talent the Perfect Game All-American Classic produces and are proof that some friendships you make in baseball can be lasting ones. After reflecting on their Sunday in Petco Park four years ago, the two provided some advice to those who participated in this year’s Classic and will be going through the draft process in a matter of months.

“Just have fun with it,” Swihart said. “Don’t think about it too much. Don’t stress out. Everything will work out how it should.”

Owens’ advice was much simpler.

“Hustle,” he said. “Always hustle.”

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