SARASOTA, Fla. -- Adam Loewen's most recent start for the Baltimore Orioles was April 24 before 16,727 fans at Safeco Field in Seattle.
His last time on the mound was for a scoreless inning of relief July 6 in front of 22,276 fans at Camden Yards in Baltimore.
Yesterday afternoon, Loewen made his first start at first base since 2003 before 48 people -- 46 of them scouts -- at the Buck O'Neill Twin Lakes Complex, the Orioles' minor-league complex.
The highest drafted Canadian ever -- the fourth overall pick in North America in 2002 -- hit fifth yesterday against the Cincinnati Reds. His teammates weren't Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, but prospects who spent 2008 at class-A Aberdeen, rookie-class Bluefield and rookie-class Gulf Coast Orioles.
Welcome to instructional league.
It is where dreams begin, dreams continue or, if you are Adam Loewen, 24, where dreams take a different path down an uncertain road.
From tyke, to Little League, to a dominating the B.C. Premier League with the Whalley Chiefs, to the Chipola College Indians, the lefty climbed a mountain to earn a Canadian-record $3.2 million US bonus in 2003, moments before he would have re-entered the amateur draft.
Now, like Rick Ankiel before him, Loewen is facing a mountain equally as high.
"I'm working hard," Loewen said underneath a covered dugout as a light Florida rain sprinkled the field after his team's 4-3 win, in which Mississauga's Jordan Wideman singled for the Reds.
"The good thing about hitting is that there's always something new to work on," Loewen said. "The coaches have been patient with me. When you hit, you get to try it every day. You don't start and wait four games before another chance."
Loewen hit the final week of the season in Baltimore with batting instructor Terry Crowley. Minor-league hitting coach Denny Walling has worked with Loewen.
A second stress fracture to Loewen's left elbow caused him to give up pitching.
"They said I'd never pitch again unless I had another surgery," Loewen said. "When doctors told me I could throw the ball and try hitting ... well, the conversation stopped right there."
Loewen talked to his parents, his agent Michael Moye and Greg Hamilton, his coach with the Canadian national youth team.
"Greg encouraged me, he thought I could give it a try," Loewen said.
Hamilton coached Loewen at the 2002 world junior championship in Sherbrooke, Que.
"Delmon Young, Lastings Milledge and a whole bunch of guys now in the majors were there," Hamilton said. "Adam won the batting title."
Loewen hit over .700. After games against Korea and Chinese Taipei, opposing players asked Loewen to pose for pictures.
"I may had have the highest average but Young hit about 10 bombs," Loewen said.
Ankiel threw his final pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 but his pitching was shelved because of wildness. He began 2005 with class-A Quad Cities and was back with the Cardinals for 47 games in 2007. This season, he hit .264 with 25 homers and 71 RBIs.
While Ankiel had 152 at-bats before 2004 in the minors and with St. Louis, Loewen, who has not talked to Ankiel for advice, had two at-bats since Chipola.
Loewen was hitless in two at-bats yesterday with three walks and is now 7-for-17 (.412) this fall.
"I wish him well," one veteran said. "I saw him as a high schooler. He could hit, but man that's a long time between at-bats."
Loewen hopes to show enough for the Orioles to send him to winter ball in either Hawaii or Venezuela and earn a spot in the minors next season.
"We have to renegotiate the contract," Loewen said. Under the Basic Agreement, Loewen's salary ($816,000 in 2008) can be cut by a maximum of 20%.
Reviews from the crowd:
Righty Ryan O'Shea, 22: "He doesn't big league anyone. You have to give a lot of credit to a guy wanting to try this."
Baltimore scout David Blume: "If you didn't know he had three years in the big leagues, you'd think he was drafted in 2007 the way he carries himself. I saw good power in batting practice."
Orioles manager Dave Tremblay: "If hard work is an indication of future success, he has a future as a hitter."
Viewing the future is difficult to see.