Blue Springs graduate, Waterloo Bucks star Garrett McGowan lighting up Northwoods League

By Cody Thorn
Special to The Examiner
Garrett McGowan

Garrett McGowan is making a name for himself in a highly regarded summer baseball league.

The 2017 Blue Springs High School graduate was named to the Northwoods League All-Star Game, which will be held on July 20 in Mankato, Minnesota. 

He was one of three members of the Waterloo Bucks selected to the team. McGowan, at the time of his selection, was leading the league in RBIs. He had a .350 average – top 10 in the league – and had three home runs and seven stolen bases. 

Media members and field staff members of the league’s 22 teams voted for the all-star team. 

“It is a blessing,” said the first baseman, who plays for Pittsburg State University. “All of the hard work I put in … it is just awesome to see the hard work pay off and represent Waterloo.” 

His play so far played a part in the Bucks claiming the Great Plains East Sub-Division first-half championship, meaning they will be in the playoffs. 

He is second on the Bucks in batting average and shares the lead in home runs following a 7-6 win against the Rochester Honkers on Tuesday night. McGowan had an RBI sacrifice fly in the 10-inning victory.

More:Ex-Wildcat McGowan finds new path

How did Garrett McGowan end up with the Waterloo Bucks?

This is his first season playing summer baseball away from Kansas City. Last year he dominated the Ban Johnson Collegiate League and was named to the league’s postseason first team, as well being named Les Milgram Most Valuable Player and the Bob Allison Offensive Player of the Year while playing for Regal Plastic. 

He was supposed to have played in the Alaskan Baseball League but that league called off the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Garrett McGowan, a Blue Springs High School gtaduate, played 13 games for Illinois this spring before the coronavirus shutdown and after a record-setting stint at Dodge City (Kan.) Community College. McGowan, who is among the league leaders in this summer's Ban Johnson League, is transferring to Division II Pittsburg State in hopes of earning a spot in the major league draft someday. [Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics}

Connections from Pittsburg State assistant coaches Taylor Steen and Derek Francis helped pave the way to play in the Northwoods League. 

“I’m happy I did it,” McGowan said. “I like to get out and meet people from all over the country. This team has 20 guys from California. Playing in the Ban Johnson was awesome and I had a lot of success, but it is good to get out and expand my horizons and play at a very top-level league and see what I can do.” 

The Northwoods League resembles minor league baseball with long bus rides and constant hotel stays. Tuesday’s game was a two-hour trip – the shortest of the season for the Bucks. McGowan recalled a five-hour trip to Duluth, Minnesota, earlier this season and a 12-hour trip to Bismark, South Dakota, is ahead on the calendar. 

“It is a grind, for sure, but it is fun,” he said. “I have met a bunch of new people and played in cool cities. It is what I thought it would be – good competition. It's a great time. I play baseball. I don’t have to worry about anything else. The competition is top notch. The coaches take care of you and my teammates are great.” 

More:Blue Springs' McGowan honored for summer baseball exploits

McGowan playing with a chip on his shoulder in the Northwoods League

McGowan is one of only two NCAA Division II players on a roster full of Division I players – though McGowan isn’t far removed from playing at Illinois in the abbreviated 2020 season.

That has provided some motivation for him. 

Hays Larks' first baseman Garrett McGowan (26) hits the ball  against the Hutchinson Monarchs Friday evening at Eck Stadium during the NBC World Series. The Monarchs defeated the Larks 11-3.

“It is almost like a chip on your shoulder,” McGowan said. “It is like, ‘I will show you guys, I will prove to you guys and show you what D-II players can do.’” 

He transferred to Pittsurg State last summer and earned All-MIAA honors for the Gorillas this spring, hitting .265 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. He hit four home runs and had nine RBIs in the MIAA postseason tournament and helped the Gorillas reach the championship game, which they lost to Central Missouri, the eventual Division II national runner-up. 

“Getting that close and falling, it leaves a bad taste,” McGowan said. “You know you’re good enough to play in the championship and falling … it sucks. We know we can have that kind of team and play at a championship level. Hopefully we can push past next year.” 

What's next for McGowan?

McGowan plans to return for his senior season with the goal of reaching pro baseball soon – much like his dad, Donnie, did in the late 1980s with the Red Sox farm system. Four MIAA players were drafted in the MLB Draft this week and he hopes to hear his name called next year. 

For now, McGowan is getting plenty of at-bats against players that, like him, have pro baseball aspirations. The Honkers, for example, have pitchers from Creighton, San Jose State, Northwestern, Washington and St. John’s. 

“It is great being able to face those pitchers to better yourself,” he said. “You get those at-bats and see what you learned and take it back to school. It is a great learning experience. I have had my ups and my downs and I try to figure out and even out. The goal is to stay consistent. That is the biggest thing. 

“My biggest goal this summer is to just enjoy every minute and not take anything for granted. I’m having fun every day. Everything else that comes along is just extra on top of it.”