By STEVE KRAH
Rich Maloney has been a head coach in college baseball coach for 24 seasons with 22 campaigns of 30 wins or more and 832 total victories.
Maloney has developed dozens players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
John Lowery Jr. was there at the beginning, serving as assistant coach to Maloney throughout his first stint at Ball State University and two seasons into his tenure at the University of Michigan.
Lowery, who was the West Virginia high school player of the year in 1988 and four-year right-handed pitcher at the University of Minnesota, was in his third season of coaching collegians when Maloney was hired at BSU in the summer of 1995.
After finishing his playing career, Lowery was on Joe Carbone’s staff at Ohio University heading into the 1995 season when Mike Gibbons left the Ball State staff to pursue a scouting job and Pat Quinn, a good friend of Carbone, was looking for a pitching coach for what turned out to be Quinn’s final coaching season. Lowery was hired in January.
When Maloney, who had been an assistant at Western Michigan University, was named Cardinals head coach he inherited Lowery.
“He gets his first head coaching job at 30 years old and he has to keep an assistant for a year,” says Lowery, who was in attendance at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “He was open-minded about it but he told me you need to be able to recruit and evaluate players and you’ve got to be loyal.
“We did have some good players over the years.”
While Lowery was on the BSU staff, the Cardinals produced four players that went on to be drafted in the first round — right-handed pitcher Bryan Bullington (No. 1 overall by Pittsburgh in 2002), outfielder Larry Bigbie (No. 21 overall by Baltimore in 1999) and left-handers Luke Hagerty (No. 32 overall by the Chicago Cubs in 2002) and Jeff Urban (No. 41 overall by the San Francisco Giants in 1998).
Hagerty hails from Defiance, Ohio. The rest are Indiana high school products — Bullington from Madison Consolidated, Bigbie from Hobart and Urban from Alexandria-Monroe.
There was also catcher Jonathan Kessick (third round to Baltimore in 1999), right-handers Justin Wechsler (fourth round to Arizona in 2001) and Paul Henry (seventh round to Baltimore in 2002) and left-hander Jason Hickman (eighth round to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2000). Wechsler prepped at Pendelton Heights.
In addition, MLB came calling in the first 20 rounds for left-hander Sam McConnell (11th round Pittsburgh in 1997), catcher Doug Boone (15th round to the Florida Marlins in 2001 and 36th round to the New York Yankees in 2002), left-hander Adam Sheefel (17th round to Cincinnati in 2000), right-hander Bruce Stanley (18th round to Kansas City in 1997) and shortstop Shayne Ridley (19th round to Baltimore in 2000).
Tapping into Indiana high school resources, Boone went to Providence and Stanley Shenandoah.
“He was definitely energetic,” says Lowery of a young Maloney. He was about getting after it. That’s for sure.
“He was aggressive. He could recruit. He understood projectability of players. That’s why he had so many first-rounders. He could look at guys who were sort of under-valued. We can do this, this and this with this kid and he has a chance to be pretty good.”
Lowery says Bullington was undervalued because he was such a good basketball player. He just hadn’t played a lot of baseball.
“For whatever reason he chose to play baseball instead of basketball in college even though his father (Larry Bullington) is one of the best basketball players ever to play at Ball State,” says Lowery. “(Bryan Bullington) really got good at the end of his senior year (of high school in 1999) to the point that he was offered to sign (by Kansas City) and did not.
In three seasons at BSU, Bullington went 29-11 with 357 strikeouts in 296 2/3 innings was selected No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a $4,000,000 signing bonus.
Lowery recalls that Hagerty’s parents moved into a smaller house so he could come to Ball State. He ended up being a first-round “sandwich” pick.
Urban was a 6-8 southpaw who got better.
“He could always throw strikes but he couldn’t throw very hard,” says Lowery of Urban. “All of a sudden, he got a lot stronger, did a lot of long toss and started throwing in the lower 90s.”
Urban was also first-round “sandwich” pick.
In their seven campaigns together in Muncie, Lowery and Maloney were part of 256 wins along with three Mid-American Conference titles and four MAC West crowns.
Lowery followed Maloney to Ann Arbor and those first two Wolverines teams won 64 contests and placed in the top three in the Big Ten Conference.
Top MLB draftees during those two years were Indianapolis Cathedral product Jake Fox (third round to the Chicago Cubs in 2003, Carmel graduate Jim Brauer (ninth round to Florida in 2005), Derek Feldkamp (ninth round to Tampa Bay Rays in 2005) and Brock Koman (ninth round to Houston in 2003).
“He’s a great communicator,” says Lowery of Maloney. “He has a vision. He’s intense.
“Kids like to play for him.”
At the end of his second season at Michigan, John and Tricia Lowery had three children under 6 — Abbee, Beau and Brooks — and he decided to leave college coaching and went back to West Virginia.
Lowery has a unique distinction. He turned 50 in 2019 and his high school and college head coaches — father John Lowery Sr. (a founder of the West Virginia High School Baseball Coaches Association and WVHSBCA Hall of Famer) at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va. and John Anderson at Minnesota — are still serving in the same positions as when he played for them.
For seven seasons, Lowery was head coach at Martinsburg High School. The Bulldogs’ arch rivals are the Jefferson Cougars, coached by his father.
Martinsburg won a state title in 2009 and Jefferson bested Martinsburg on the way to a state crown in 2011. The Lowerys won a state championship together when John Jr., was a player.
The younger Lowery, who now teaches at Jefferson, coached travel ball and softball on and off the next few years then became head baseball coach for four years at Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in south central Pennsylvania that is about 40 miles from Martinsburg.
Last spring, he traveled often to see Beau Lowery play as a walk-on left-handed pitcher at West Virginia University.
How did Lowery end up going from the Mountaineer State to Minnesota?
Rob Fornasiere, who ended up as a Golden Gophers assistant for 33 years, was a good friend of Bernie Walter, who coached Denny Neagle at Arundel High School in Gambrills, Md., and had gotten the pitcher to come to play at Minnesota.
Fornasiere was at the 1987 Olympic Festival watching Dan Wilson and John Lowery Sr., approaches him to say that his son is talented and would consider playing for the Gophers.
“To Rob’s credit, he didn’t blow my father off,” says Lowery. “Rob was always very organized. At another recruiting even later that year, John Anderson saw me play. I was good enough.”
His first recruiting visit was also his first time on an airplane. He attended Game 7 of the 1987 World Series (St. Louis Cardinals at Minnesota Twins).
In the lunch room, Lowery sat the lunch room at the table next to Reggie Jackson (who was on the ABC broadcast crew).
In his four seasons at Minnesota, Lowery played with six future big leaguers — Neagle, Wilson, Jim Brower, Brent Gates, Kerry Lightenberg and Brian Raabe.
Lowery spent a short time in the Giants organization at Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, after signing for $1,000 as a free agent with scout Mike Toomey on a car trunk in Huntington, W.Va. His pro debut was memorable.
“I was nervous as all get out,” says Lowery. “I come in with the bases loaded. I balk all three runs in because the balk rule is different in college. You can basically change direction. In pro ball, you had to set.”
Lowery pitched for the Minneapolis Loons of the independent North Central League. The team was managed by Greg Olson. Teammates included Lightenberg and Juan Berenguer.
John Lowery Jr., was an assistant baseball coach at Ball State University 1995-2002 and the University Michigan 2003-2004 — all but the first year as an assistant to Rich Maloney. Lowey is a former West Virginia high school player of the year who pitched at the University of Minnesota. (Steve Krah Photo)