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Rowley: 'Proud and humbled' of road to MLB

From ESPN - August 13, 2017

TORONTO -- Trying to maintain his throwing arm in the midst of a 30-month stint with the U.S. Army often proved challenging for Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Chris Rowley. Fortunately, his company medic was willing to cooperate.

The first West Point graduate to reach the major leagues, Rowley pitched one-run ball over 5 1/3 innings to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in his debut Saturday, leaving the field to a standing ovation.

"It still feels pretty surreal," Rowley said Sunday. "I am slowly processing it. I am still in that initial surge. My phone is getting blown up, I have all these interviews. Twenty-four hours ago, relatively nobody knew my name. Now all of a sudden this has blown up. I am trying to handle the surreal aspect of it."

Working off a major league mound was not an option for Rowley in the summer of 2015, when he was stationed in Bulgaria and Romania as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, aimed at reassuring NATO's European allies in light of Russia's invasion in Ukraine. A first lieutenant, his job as a fire support officer in the field artillery branch was the priority, but Rowley and his medic still found time for the occasional game of catch.

"It was unusual," Rowley said. "He played infield in high school so he was not a catcher, but he did a fine job. I was just trying to keep the arm moving and do something to not lose anything."

Those sessions proved helpful once Rowley left the Army in January 2016, having received an exception to the remainder of his service. While he remains on individual ready reserve, he was free to return to the Blue Jays, rejoining the organization at spring training.

"I felt fine, I felt like I was getting guys out and competing," Rowley said of his comeback after missing all of 2014 and 2015. "I think I got away with a lot more then. I was tossing in 87 mph heaters and hoping nobody would hit them. I felt like I was pretty comfortable coming back, but it might have been a little bit unfounded."

Showing few signs of rust, Rowley went 10-3 at Class A Dunedin in 2016. This year, he started at Double-A New Hampshire, going 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA before being promoted to Triple-A in mid-June. Rowley was 3-4 with a 2.82 ERA in Buffalo before getting the call to join Toronto's injury-ravaged rotation.

Blue Jays catcher Mike Ohlman teamed with Rowley at Triple-A and also was behind the plate for the final 1 1/3 innings of Saturday's start.

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