On Friday afternoon, the day before Chris Rowley was to become the first alum of a Forsyth County high school to play in Major League Baseball in more than 25 years, there were no nerves. Rowley would be playing baseball, the same game he's known for most of his life.
But after he went to the stadium and threw and watched batting practice and met with the media, and in the evening, it hit him. This was still baseball, yes, but different in so many ways from what Rowley had been playing before.
"I really kind of hit that panic mode for a couple hours on Friday night," Rowley said on Tuesday, three days after his start.
Once Rowley's family arrived in Toronto, though, he was fine, no longer absorbed in his anxiety. On Saturday, the former South Forsyth hurler allowed one run on five hits in 5 1/3 innings to get the win against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"Once I started playing catch it felt completely normal," Rowley said. "I didn't really feel much emotion until I came off the mound in the sixth."
Rowley, true to form, didn't overpower the Pirates. None of his pitches averaged higher than 89.7 mph, but there were all within 8 mph of each other, upping the deception Rowley relies on. He got swinging strikes with 14.7 percent of his pitches, above the league average, and Rowley's slider induced the most whiffs, on six of the 14 swings against it.
"I've always been confident," Rowley said. "I've always believed that my stuff plays at every level, and it plays here I think exactly how I would expect it to."
Of course, there were some moments where Rowley just had to give the Pirates' hitters credit. Against Josh Bell, who led off the second inning for the Pirates, Rowley ran a changeup off the outside corner, but Bell reached out and put a solid line drive into the left-center field gap for a triple.
After retiring the next two batters, Rowley put an 0-2 count on Jordy Mercer and then, per his catchers' spot, ran a fastball up at Mercer's shoulder level. Mercer still got to it, slapping a hard grounder up the middle to score Bell, and Rowley crouched in exasperation as the ball zipped by the mound.
"There's a reason that they're up here and they get paid a lot of money to do what they do, and they're good," Rowley said. "I don't want to take that away from them."
Rowley's appearance on Saturday could qualify by some measures as a spot start, with the Blue Jays' rotation marked with holes from injury and trades, but he's still in Toronto and is scheduled to start on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I just have to keep pitching," Rowley said. "Keep pitching, keep being a good teammate, and then be good on and off the field, and I think I've just got to let the rest take care of itself."