John Bowker’s second chance presented itself one morning in late April. Bowker was just sitting down for breakfast at his apartment in Campeche, a port city on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, when his telephone rang.
He answered the call to find a scout from the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on the other end of the line offering him a path back to Japan.
Bowker had been waiting for a call like that since the end of the 2013 season and, once the particulars were ironed out, he was finally back in NPB in early May as a member of the Eagles.
“I was super stoked,” Bowker told The Japan Times. “I was down in Mexico playing with the goal of trying to get back here. When the Eagles called, I was just really happy to have another opportunity to come back here and play.”
Bowker spent parts of four seasons in MLB before his first stint in Japan in 2012 with the Yomiuri Giants. He had a rough first year until the Japan Series, where he hit a pair of homers, drove in seven runs and won one of the Outstanding Player awards as the Giants beat the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in six games. Bowker had a better year in 2013, hitting .262 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs during the regular season.
He wanted to return for another year, but the Giants went in a different direction, and Bowker ended up without a team. So he headed to the Mexican League to continue his career, signing with Piratas de Campeche, who have also had former NPB players Brian Barden (Hiroshima Carp, 2011) Josh Fields (Yomiuri, 2011) and Luis Terrero (Rakuten, 2012) on the roster this season.
“I thought after last year I’d be coming back, and I was disappointed that it didn’t happen,” Bowker said. “I’m just happy where I’m at right now. I’m happy to be with the Eagles.
While Bowker yearned for a return to Japan, Mexico did have it’s advantages.
The league provided a decent level of competition, and late start times, often around 8 p.m., allowed Bowker to get in some work and do other things before games. Even with the late starts, he was back in his apartment by midnight on many nights. The venues in Mexico were smaller, but the vibe was often festive with enthusiastic crowds packed into the ballparks.
“I had a good time playing down there,” Bowker said. “The fans really get into it. It’s kind of similar to Japan I would say. It’s kind of loud during games. It’s a similar style of pitching, a lot of off-speed pitches. The food is good down there, and the people are friendly, so I had a good time.”
Even so, Bowker is glad to be back. He isn’t the only one either, as the 30-year-old outfielder was swarmed by former teammates and friends when the Eagles squared off against the Giants at Tokyo Dome last week.
“He’s a good guy,” Yomiuri reliever Scott Mathieson said. “I’m glad to see him back over here.”
Bowker’s past experience should expedite his transition to Japan, and he has former MLBers in Brian Falkenborg, Andruw Jones, Kazuo Matsui and Takashi Saito to help him acclimate to life with Rakuten.
“Just to have those guys, veteran-type guys, to talk to about the game . . . those guys are smart, and I try to listen to what they’re saying and pick their brain,” Bowker said.
With Kevin Youkilis back in the U.S. getting treatment for plantar fasciitis, Bowker is probably going to be around for the long haul and hopes to get the chance to show the Eagles what he can do.
“I just want to come in and try to do something in the lineup,” he said. “Something to try to protect some of the guys like AJ. Hopefully, I can do that and go out there and play some strong defense. These guys work hard and they know what it’s like to win a championship. They know what they’re doing. I just want to come in and fit in with these guys.”