LYNN, Mass. -- A cold, windy early April afternoon turned out to be as good a day as any for Lynn English lefthander Ben Bowden to make his debut for the 2013 season. The Vanderbilt-bound senior struck out 15 batters and allowed just two hits and an unearned run as the Bulldogs eased by Salem, 7-1, in their season-opener at Fraser Field.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Bowden has been one of the most highly-touted pitchers in the state since the beginning of the 2012 season, when he threw a perfect game against Marblehead in his first start of the season. Bowden earned a spot in the "Starting Rotation" of ESPNBoston.com's All-State Team by season's end, with six wins to go with 82 strikeouts in 51.2 innings. He will be a name to watch this spring as he gets into a groove -- in front of a half-dozen Major League scouts today, he topped out at 89 miles per hour on the radar guns, hitting the 85-86 range with regularity.
Bowden spoke with ESPNBoston.com following the win to talk about his vastly-improved conditioning, the new pitches he's added to his repertoire, and what baseball means in the pride-filled city of Lynn.
Q: Take me through your game day routine, during the day and then leading up to the game.
A: "During the day obviously we have school, so I'm pretty amped up during the school day. But today, I felt kinda crappy. I've had a stomach bug the last few days, and it's pretty bad, but I get pretty amped up during school, I try to forget about it as much as I can until I get out. And then I get out, get dressed, get down to the field as fast as I can and start stretching. I stretched today for about a good 40 minutes or so, and then I was ready to rock."
Q: You're obviously pretty geared up for this first start. What do you do in a situation like that, with an illness?
A: "I had a feeling I was going to get it -- my dad got it, my sister got it, so I had a pretty good feeling I was going to get it. I just hoped it would come soon, and it would be gone for today. But I was just praying it would go away, I felt pretty crappy last night and today I felt OK as the day went along. I started feeling it again, but it will be gone tomorrow."
Q: A few weeks ago when we spoke, you said you feel the best you've ever felt going into a baseball season. What contributed to that?
A: "I honestly think basketball and conditioning helped, but I was also throwing on the sides a lot more than I ever have before. Definitely, the throwing helped a lot. I kept a consistent schedule, probably twice a week, and kept a light pace -- you know, not blowing it up. That's definitely helped.
Q: Was there anything you were looking to tweak with those throwing sessions, from last year's performance?
A: "I developed a slider over the off-season, and that needs a ton of work. I tend to lose my legs towards the end of the game, and I just got to do a better job conditioning, working my legs more, staying compact to the plate throughout the game, keeping my front side in and not flying open."
Q: I understand you've lost a lot of weight from last year.
A: "I'm probably 40 pounds [lighter] now. I was pretty heavy at the end of August. I did a lot of working out, stopped eating junk food, started eating the right stuff. I feel a lot lighter on the mound, I feel like I can run a lot easier, pulls aren't as bad as they were last year. It's all beneficial.
"Right now, I'm fluctuating between 215 and 220 [pounds]. I was 252 [by the end of last August]. A lot of fast food, on the road alot, out in Long Beach for the Area Code Games. But I'm happy I got it off, and I'm in the best shape I've been in a while."
Q: You get attention for your velocity, but you work in your changeup and curve nicely.
A: "I'm not exactly happy with my velocity yet. I want to be a lot higher at the end of the season. Obviously, first start, you know, after coming off this nice little sickness, [and] I haven't thrown a pen in seven days, so this is kinda my pen and the start.
"But my changeup, I've always had a pretty good changeup, I'm actually still developing it. I'm developing a straight change, as well as a circle -- I've always had a circle. My slider today, I felt that a few of them were pretty good, and a few them weren't that good, I was a little disappointed in myself on that. I wasn't getting through them as well as I should have."
Q: How does it feel when you ring a guy up on high heat?
A: "I love ringing guys up on fastballs. You get to hear the pop of the glove, and the whiff -- hopefully, they whiff. Looking is OK, too. Coach Phibbs called a great game today, I got all the trust in the world in him. And then our catcher Drew [Gentile] did a great job behind the plate."
Q: What do you feel you are representing when you put that jersey on?
A: "A city of a lot of sports fanatics, and it's pretty cool because my coach and teachers all know when my games are, they're always asking when I'm starting. So, I had a few teachers out here today, so that's pretty cool. A lot of people I've known, like [assistant coach Bill] Dutch, he's been here in Lynn since he was a little kid. He was brought up a Bulldog, he went to school at English. I feel like when I go out there and do a job and get the win, I feel like I'm getting a win for everyone, especially coach Dutch. He does a lot of unbelievable things for the kids in Lynn. It's a cool feeling."
Q: What's it like throwing in front of Major League scouts like today?
A: "Last summer when I was throwing in Syracuse, Georgia, Long Beach, I kinda got used to it. Not that you ever get too used to it, you still get the extra jitters, but it's an honor to be recognized by those guys and have them come out and look. It's a cool feeling. You get a little extra fired up, because you see those guys with the guns back there, but you just got to remain calm and just do your thing and not try and get too amped up, you know?"
Q: Where do you think you need to improve the most this year?
A: "I absolutely have to improve on my slider, but I've also got to improve on spotting up and keeping the ball low. You can't do that [leaving the ball up in the zone] at the next level, those are some of the top hitters in the country, so I've got to work on spotting up."