Bound for Boston - Lowery headed to high school hall

June 30, 2002|by DAN SPEARS

Photographs, seemingly thousands of photographs, tell the life of Jefferson High School baseball coach John Lowery.

His Shepherdstown home bursts at the seams with them. A room filled with pictures of long-gone baseball stadiums, a ledge three layers deep in miniature photos of his wife, his sons, his grandchildren and years gone by. A den brimming with baseball memorabilia, centered around a portrait of his three sons in their collegiate baseball uniforms.

But only one - a simple, yet eclectic, stillframe almost lost among autographed pictures and state championship lore - truly shows his contribution to the game.

It's a photo taken from the top of Watt Powell Park in Charleston during the 1999 Class AAA state title game against St. Albans. From the stadium roof, a friend used a fisheye lens to capture the action, the stands and the mountains beyond center field. The view is spectacular.


And if you're a baseball aficionado, it captures a perfect split second of a symphony.

When the shutter snapped, Jefferson pitcher Josh Cenate had just released a throw back to first base to check a runner, the ball a simple white blur with a green infield background. And every Jefferson player is on the move: the second baseman and right fielder breaking toward first in case of a wild throw, the shortstop moving to second base, the third baseman rushing to back up the return throw to Cenate.

As Lowery looks at the photo, a grin breaks his face in two.

"Everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing," he says. "He didn't know what he got when he shot it.

"Now, if I could only get them to do that every time."

Lowery's Cougars have done everything he's asked and more over the last 30 years, winning seven state championships and 827 games since the school was founded in 1972.

"He can get a group of guys to do anything he wants them to do," said John Lowery Jr., who played for his father from 1986-88 and is now an assistant baseball coach at the University of Michigan. "It's proven. His formula works."

The only coach in Jefferson history, his efforts have been recognized in West Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region for years. On Wednesday, the rest of the country finds out about John Lowery, who will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in Boston.

"They say it's an impressive, moving thing," said Lowery, who will be just the seventh person from West Virginia honored. "Instead of speeches, they show a video of your career for everyone to see. It's only about a minute, but there's so many things ..."

One singular moment to define Jefferson baseball doesn't stick in Lowery's mind; the seven state championship team photos on the walls around him just don't allow it. Names like Jeff Reynolds, Jerry Mahoney and Brian Ford come to mind quickly, each with a great story in tow.

Wins come and go. Losses? Well, Lowery remembers them like they were yesterday. Despite those 827 wins, there have been 204 not-so-good results as complements.

"In the early '90s, when we won three in a row, we had some games ... down 2-0 and we hit a Texas Leaguer down the line at dusk and win 3-2," Lowery said. "But we had lost those games in the mid-'80s: 3-2, 3-2, 2-1 to Martinsburg with (Scott) Bullett and (Doug) Creek.

"We've had the disappointments. That's all part of the tradition; they've helped establish everything we're enjoying now."

But if a "moment" did occur for Cougars baseball, mark down April 27, 2001, at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y., when the team beat James Wood (Va.) 5-2 for Lowery's 800th career victory.

"I've always liked Cooperstown for reasons outside of the Hall of Fame," Lowery said. "It's the reason I go up there, but (his wife) Vicki and I have gone up there eight or 10 times now. It's a nice town with a nice golf course that we've really enjoyed. That made it pretty special.

"It's kind of a monumental coincidence if you think about it."

Lowery pulls a picture frame out of a group of almost 80. It's got two photos in it: one of Lowery wearing a uniform from a summer league when he was in his early 20s. The other is of his son, John Jr., at about the same age. The saying about a man being his father's son? Eerily accurate.

Lowery coached all three of his sons - John Jr., Charlie and Rusty - at Jefferson, a task he looked forward to, and looks back on, with pleasure.

"I wanted to coach them," Lowery said. "I think I was fortunate enough that they were already solid players. Even without me, they could stand on their own credentials."

John Jr. went on to play at Minnesota and, before recently moving on to Michigan, was at Ball State tutoring Bryan Bullington, this year's No. 1 pick in the Major League draft. Charlie went to Shepherd College and Rusty played collegiately at James Madison.

"I definitely loved playing for my dad," John Jr. said. "I don't think I would have had it any other way. He was an intense person with all of his sons playing for him, but he was fair.

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