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South Forsyth to retire number of former pitcher Chris Rowley, first West Point grad in MLB
Chris Rowley delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his MLB debut on August 12, 2017. Photo courtesy Toronto Blue Jays.

Baseball took Chris Rowley all across the country.

On Friday, it will carry him back to South Forsyth High School, where the former big league pitcher will have his jersey number retired in front of friends and family.

"What's really crazy to me is, looking back specifically at my time at South, I was far from the ringmaster," Rowley said. "We had just an unbelievable amount of talent — guys who have gone on to do great things with their careers outside of baseball and in baseball. Three or four of us got drafted. Jake Drehoff, who I think is still on staff as a coach there or was recently, he made it to Double-A with Boston. Brian Adams played a little bit of pro ball, Chase Fowler got drafted. We had a ton of guys go DI and otherwise get scholarships. We had a really good team, and I think that was for me a little bit of a launching point in my career. Looking back, I was far from the centerpiece of that team."

Rowley, who graduated from South in 2009, played three seasons at the United States Military Academy at West Point before signing a free-agent deal with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013.

Rowley set several school records during a banner junior season at Army, including wins [11], shutouts [5], consecutive shutouts [4], consecutive shutout innings [29] and innings pitched [97 1/3]. In fact, the glove Rowley used during his collegiate career is exhibited at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

He signed a 60-day contract with the Blue Jays in June 2013, then posted a 4-0 record and 1.10 ERA through nine appearances in the Gulf Coast League. 

Following a deployment to Europe that lasted more than 30 months, Rowley returned to win 10 games at High-A Dunedin in 2016, then posted a sterling 2.40 ERA across 116 1/3 innings the following year with Toronto's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. 

Soon after, Rowley received the call that secured his place in baseball history, becoming the first West Point baseball player to reach the major leagues. Rowley tossed 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball in his debut as the Blue Jays beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-2 on Aug. 12, 2017.

Rowley appeared in six games with the Blue Jays that season, finishing with a 1-2 record and 6.75 ERA.

He pitched two more games at the big league level in 2018, then spent some time at the Triple-A level with the Blue Jays, Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres before officially retiring ahead of this season.

"I had a lot of injuries toward the end of my career, and I partook in a couple of labor disputes with Major League Baseball, which kind of soured the end of my career a little bit," Rowley said. "I've been able to look back on my career with more of a positive light, or at least a neutral light. I'm in my first year of law school now at Colorado-Boulder, and hopefully I'm going to effect some change in either the world of Major League Baseball or elsewhere."

Major League Baseball salvaged a 162-game season earlier this month after the players' association and MLB owners came to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, ending a 99-day lockout that began in December when owners voted to enact a lockout. 

Though Rowley would certainly feel comfortable in the arena of player representation, and as much as baseball is part of his past, he said he is considering all options in his future law career.

"It's certainly why I came to law school," Rowley said. "I was part of a class of players who were increasingly upset with the labor conditions, and you see that kind of reflected in the latest CBA negotiations, and even after. Even the latest CBA negotiation has been passed, but there's still a lot of grumblings about it. I think it'll rear its ugly head again in five years or so. So, that's why I came to law school, but I don't want to pigeonhole myself and I don't want to close off opportunities that may be elsewhere and may be rewarding work where I can go and make an impact."

And while the next steps in Rowley's career are still being forged, one thing is certain: No baseball player at South Forsyth will ever wear No. 15 again.

"It might have just been luck of the draw ... I ended up wearing that all throughout Army," Rowley said. "The first time I changed that number was in Double-A. So, it became special to me, but I'm going to go with Tim Hudson was wearing that with Atlanta at the time and I really admired the way he pitched."

A ceremony honoring Rowley is scheduled for Friday afternoon at 5:30 at South's indoor facility.

South Forsyth pitcher Chris Rowley delivers a pitch against Lovett on Tuesday at the War Eagles’ field. Rowley gave up four runs and had six strikeouts in four innings of work. - photo by Jared Putnam