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AN Exclusive Interview: Dustin Fowler Hoping To Fare Better In 2019

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Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
“They pitch, therefore I swing” -Descartes, who struggled with OBP throughout his life.
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

First and foremost, a heartfelt thanks goes out to AN veteran Margie Kahn for her magical transcribing skills that made it possible for me to publish these interviews so soon after they were conducted.

My interview with Dustin Fowler was prior to the game on Saturday (March 10th). Seated at his locker in the clubhouse, Fowler congenially agreed to chat with me in the dugout and proceeded to lead me towards the back of the clubhouse, and around to the right through a door to the outside.

Which was unfortunate since the clubhouse was a straight shot if you just went out the other door. But I figured Fowler must know a shortcut so I followed him and our walk took us around and about, until I finally recognized where we were because I saw the right field foul pole.

It was only at this moment that I realized Fowler was hopefully lost and was employing a strategy I used have used before: “If I just keep walking, I’ll probably get there eventually.” At this point I offered, “You know we can just sit in the stands if you want,” and we ended up chatting in the grandstands down the right field line.

All of which is to say that I hope Fowler takes better routes on his fly balls this year. I kid, I kid. (I don’t.) Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy the first of my three Cactus League interviews — my chats with Jesus Luzardo and Jharel Cotton will soon follow.

Nico: So the first thing I want to start with is going back to that fateful day when you injured yourself in your debut. Of course publicly, and to yourself, your stance is, “Okay, it happened, I’m gonna be tough, I’m gonna move through this.” I want to try to channel the human being in there that has that reaction quietly to their friends and family of what that was really like and just what it felt like for you to have to have that happen to start your career.

Fowler: Yeah, I mean it’s tough, it’s definitely not what you want, not the way to start your career. But it was awful, sitting out on the field, not knowing if you were ever going to play again. You knew immediately that it was something serious and something was wrong, so you immediately go to the worst-case scenario.

So you never know if you’re gonna play again, and you immediately go into surgery, wake up the next day, and then you don’t really know how things are going. Then the doctors come in and tell you how serious it was, and then you immediately go to a bad place and you don’t know how the recovery is gonna go, you don’t know if you’re gonna have any setbacks that you didn’t need. Especially if you do have a good recovery, you might not ever be the same, so it’s definitely something scary to go through and I wouldn’t recommend it. Wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.

Nico: Now, when you say “Will I ever be the same?” that’s my first thought. Even a pitcher going through Tommy John surgery, what’s it gonna be like to throw a pitch. In your case, how long was it before you were not 98%, but 100% convinced that “I will be the same again”?

Fowler: Honestly, probably a couple months into the season last year. I knew I was healthy and ready to play, but you are tentative to it and you’re kinda scared to open it up a lot because you haven’t really done it and you’re not really comfortable with it yet. But it was probably a couple months into the season when I started getting more and more comfortable with it and opening things up, and I could tell that that was where I needed to be.

Because that’s the scariest thing with someone like a pitcher, he’s got a power arm and he has Tommy John and you don’t know if he’s gonna lose it or get it back. And then with me, I’m a speed guy so I need my legs, so especially having a big knee surgery you don’t know if I’m gonna come back and be sore, because I’m not a guy that can use power to back him up. So it was definitely scary. I would say probably about midway through last year where I could tell I was gonna be fine.

Nico: So that first two months of last year, where did you notice it the affecting you the most as far as really holding back, or “I’m not sure”?

Fowler: Obviously the balls to the wall, running after balls in the outfield, you get close to the wall and you kinda shut it down, you’re scared you’ll run into it again, and then especially running the bases and stealing and having to slide and wanting to be a little more on the tentative side.

So typically you want to go into second base sliding as hard as you can, but you want to slow up a little bit, so you don’t really get that full speed, everything you really need, so that was some big things for me.

But it was honestly when I got up in the big leagues and I started struggling at first, and it was like all right, I gotta get over this and gotta start playing, and eventually you’re gonna have to get over it, so you’re gonna have to go through your struggles and get through it at some point. So I figured now’s the time to do it and then go from there, because the more you slack on it the worse it’s gonna be in the long run.

Nico: I’m going back to that moment when you injured it. I’m sure there was initial shock. But were you literally lying there saying “My career’s over”? Or were you lying there going “What just happened?”

Fowler: Honestly, I was like “What just happened?” because when I ran into the wall, I thought I just dead-legged my leg. I knew I hit it hard but I didn’t think it was that serious. I didn’t know what had happened at first. And then the second time I put pressure on it, I had nothing there, and that’s when I was, like, “Something’s bad, something is wrong here,” and honestly I was just sitting on the ground. — it was probably 20 seconds before people were there, but it felt like a lifetime. So you don’t really know what’s happening and then you’re just kinda like “What happened, why is it me that did this?” and just mostly in shock.

Nico: I know that this was public news, so maybe you didn’t have to tell anyone, but who was the first person you told?

Fowler: I called my fiancee at the time, my wife now, but I called her and told her because she was in Hawaii at the time. So I called her and told her, and then obviously I called my parents and told them. But those were the only two people. I didn’t really have much time because it was off the field, MRIs, and straight into surgery an hour or two hours later, so it was all pretty quick. But in the ambulance I was able to call them and tell them, and they could get the news out to everyone else.

Nico: So, turning to the present, here you are in a pretty good fight with a lot of talented outfielders. What are you focusing on in spring training this year to try to show the front office, the coaches, “Hey, I’m your guy”?

Fowler: Mainly I just want to show that I worked my tail off this off-season to get my strength back and get back to what I know I can do. I missed pretty much a year of baseball, so last year was a struggle to find my swing again and find how I play, and I had some ups and downs and I had a lot of struggles last year where I couldn’t really find the feeling I needed at the plate, was a big one.

And then this year I’m starting to get back to what I can do and my swing is consistent, so I just wanna show them that I’m gonna be consistent and be the same guy every day. You definitely have a lot of guys that are flashy, but I just want to show that I’m a consistent player, and I think a big key is being consistent and showing them that I’m someone that they can trust.

Nico: One thing that would elevate your game would be increasing the walk rate, and yet that’s actually not one of the easier things to just change. So I’m curious, what feedback you’ve gotten or what your thoughts are on how you address that.

Fowler: It’s obviously something I’ve always had to work on, something I’ve never been — I wouldn’t say good at but something I don’t do — but it’s not really something that they’ve told me, hey, you’ve gotta walk more. It’s more make sure you’re getting a pitch early in the count that you know you can drive. Because I’m a high contact rate guy, so I think I can put everything in play, get a hit on it.

So it’s things where you have to make sure you can drive that pitch early in the count, then that’s when you’ll get deeper in the counts and start working walks more. It’s something with me that my aggressiveness is a big positive in my game, so I think if I started really trying to walk more, that would take away a big part of my game. So as for the struggles with me and my trying to find the happy medium, I think it’s mainly just early in the count, if it’s not a pitch I think I can drive, just go ahead and take it. If it’s a strike, it’s a strike. If it’s a ball, it’s a ball. But I think that’s the biggest step for me is just trusting it and zoning up pitches early in the count.

Nico: Last question: 20 years from now what’s one thing you really want people to remember about Dustin Fowler? Whether it’s the player or the person.

Fowler: Mainly just being able to overcome things. I don’t want to be that guy that, hey, I had knee surgery I’ll always have an excuse that I wasn’t what I (could have been). I want to prove that you can overcome stuff and be the best player I can be and the best person I can be. So I just wanna go out to the field and do everything I can every day and try and get better every day and become the best player I can at the end of my career.

Saturday, Fowler was still hopeful he might be one of the 30 players invited to go to Japan — but he was optioned to AAA three days later and will try to force his way back to the big leagues soon after a pretty solid Cactus League showing (.293/.310/.488, 2 HR, 2 SB).