Philip Humber is one of only 21 pitchers in the history of major league baseball to record a perfect game.Geoff Rowan is the19th pitcherin the history of the state high school baseball tournament to register a no-hitter, the only one since 1997.But Humber is a pitcher by trade. Rowan is a catcher. When Neuqua Valley's junior right-hander threw a no-hit, seven-inning gem to beat Washington 11-0 in the semifinals of the Class AA tournament in 2007, he was a pitcher by circumstance.One of his team's best hitters, Rowan started in left field because the catcher was a senior. He also pitched in a five-man rotation, accounting for about 45 innings. He didn't see much duty on the mound until midway in the season. When the state series began, however, he was the No. 2 starter. He threw an 83 miles-per-hour fastball but his cutter was very effective."In high school, it was the first time I ever played outfield. I looked at myself as a catcher first, then a pitcher. As a sophomore, I would catch and then close. As a junior, I would pitch every fourth or fifth game and start in the outfield," Rowan said.So he was coach Robin Renner's choice to start against Washington in the state semifinals. He allowed only one base-runner, on second baseman Anthony Amadei's error. The game lasted only one hour and five minutes. Amadei and shortstop Rob Elliot made one good play after another. Elliot saved the no-hitter by cutting off a sharp grounder up the middle and throwing out the runner."I remember it was a quick game. We made a lot of plays. Defensively, we were on a whole other level," Rowan said. "And I was very quick on the mound. I didn't take time between pitches. I'd just get the ball (from the catcher), get the signal and throw it. No wasted energy."Sure, I was aware I was pitching a no-hitter. I was in a zone. You try not to think about it. But I'd rather know. It's an entirely different feeling. If you give up a hit in the first inning, it's over. But in the sixth inning, your arm feels good, you're throwing the ball exactly where you want to, you're confident no one will get a hit. You trust your fielders that they can make plays."Afterward, Rowan felt excitement and relief. He was excited that his team was going to the state final for the first time in school history. And he was relieved because the game was over and the no-hitter was in the book. He never came close to a no-hitter again.Rowan played a key role in Neuqua Valley's ride to the state championship in 2007 and to third place in the 2008 state tournament. He was an All-Chicago Area catcher as a senior and earned a scholarship to play baseball at Northwestern. He also played on a Chicago Sparks summer team that finished second in the 2008 World Wood Bat Classic.As a senior, Rowan also started in the state semifinals. But he lost 4-1 to eventual state champion Prairie Ridge. "A walk, an error on a double play ball and a couple of hits and I was back behind the plate in the fifth inning," he said."He was one of the toughest kids I've ever coached," said Renner, now in his 14th year at the Naperville school. "He willed himself to succeed. His preparation throughout the season, whether pitching or playing the outfield, was amazing. He was a great competitor."As a senior, we called him Bugs Bunny because he played all positions...pitcher, catcher, third base, outfield. In some games, he'd pitch, then catch after five innings. He also was one of our best hitters. He is one of the finest young men I have ever met, very unique, very mature for his age."Today, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is a senior at Northwestern. The starting catcher, he is hitting .350 with five doubles and has thrown out 30 of 48 base-runners or 65 percent, a statistic that would be the envy of any major league catcher.He is hoping that he will be selected in the major league draft on June 4-6. He has heard from at least two teams. "It's been my dream to play major league baseball since I was 5 years old. I would like to take (baseball) as far as I can," he said.If not, Rowan is well prepared for life after baseball. "Northwestern was the place for me. I'm majoring in political science. I want to get involved in politics. In 10 years, I'd like to be a lawyer. I've applied to some law schools. I want to get an MBA, then be a litigator or practice business law or maybe be a lobbyist in Congress," he said.Until he has to make a choice, or his choice is made for him, Rowan will continue to play the game he loves. And play the position he loves."I love catching. If it's up to me, I'd catch every single day," he said. "You have control of the game. Of course, you have to make the pitchers believe they run everything. But the catcher is in control of the game. I'm involved in every play."But for one glorious day in 2007, as a high school pitcher with an 83 mph fastball, he felt like Sandy Koufax.
LOS ANGELES – The Cubs drafted and developed Ian Happ with the idea of turning him into a Ben Zobrist-type player who would move quickly through the farm system and surface as a versatile big-league contributor and/or legitimate trade chip.
With Zobrist sidelined because of a sore left wrist, the Cubs got their first look at Happ playing second base in The Show during Saturday’s 5-0 loss at Dodger Stadium. That kind of depth – plugging in a 2015 first-round pick while a World Series MVP rests – should ultimately propel the Cubs over the course of a 162-game season.
Even as the Cubs stutter-step through a 25-23 start, there are enough choices for the best defensive second baseman on the team and a National League Championship Series co-MVP (Javier Baez) to sit on the bench.
“We know that the talent’s there,” Zobrist said. “It’s not like having any one or two guys out of the lineup is a big drop-off for us because of the talent that’s there. And we know that just because we have a lot of young players doesn’t mean that they’re not extremely capable of doing the job as well.”
Zobrist – who’s reached base in 23 straight games and emerged as a new leadoff option with Kyle Schwarber struggling – felt something on an awkward swing in the first inning of Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Dodgers. Zobrist played through it that night and called it a “day-to-day thing” that didn’t require an MRI.
Facing Clayton Kershaw on Sunday after back-to-back shutouts will be a game-time decision.
“It’s tough,” Zobrist said. “We just haven’t strung together enough quality at-bats to score runs the last two games. It’s not just because of us. They’ve pitched well. Their pitchers are pretty hot right now. They’ve spotted up. They’ve gotten early strikes where they needed to and then gone to work pretty well on us.
“The task doesn’t get any easier tomorrow with Kershaw. We just got to keep trying to chip away.”
Here are the top Chicago sports stories from Saturday: