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Picking up a win in his first Major League game last Saturday was obviously a career highlight for Blue Jays right-hander Chris Rowley.
Another highlight for the U.S. Military Academy grad was in 2012 when he pitched a pair of one-hitters for the Army Black Knights. Of course, a no-hitter would have been something to really cherish, but Rowley remembers his first one-hitter very well because of the guy who broke it up, a player who also ended up in the Blue Jays’ organization.
It was an early spring doubleheader against Army’s arch-rivals the Naval Academy when Rowley pitched the Black Knights to a 2-0 victory in the opening game. An outfielder for the Naval Academy by the name of Alex Azor reached base on an error in the first inning. After that, Rowley went on to retire 15 straight Midshipmen, as the Naval Academy players are known. A second error gave Navy their second base runner in the sixth. And then in the same inning, with two out, Azor broke up Rowley’s no-hit bid with a solid smack to the middle of the infield. An article in the Maryland Gazette described the hit as “an infield single”.
“I remember it was a hit up the middle, a hard kind of low line drive that bounced once, our shortstop dove for it and went off his glove,” said Rowley on Monday. “But it got to the outfield. He hit it hard. It wasn’t a cheap hit or anything like that. It was good piece of hitting.”
Rowley retired the side in the bottom of the seventh.
Azor, the Midshipmen captain, ended up being drafted in the 10th round by the Blue Jays in 2012 and played one season in Bluefield of the Appalachian League in 2012, where he hit .250 in 40 at-bats with a .302 OBP. Azor later joined the U.S. Marines while Rowley spent two years on active duty with the U.S. Army. Being both Patriot League standouts with ties to the Blue Jays (Rowley was signed as a free agent in 2012), they kept in touch over the years.
“Last time I heard from him was maybe a year, a year and a half ago,” said Rowley, who threw 5.1 innings of one-run ball to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-2 on Saturday. “I think it was during the season last year when I was in High A.”
Rowley, who became the first U.S. Military Academy grad to make it into the Big Leagues, glanced at his phone and admitted that, quite possibly, Azor might have contacted him since making his Major League debut on Saturday.
“I have to check,” he said. “I still haven’t been through every message yet. I’m working on them, trying to get back to everyone I can.”
When asked how many messages he received since his win on Saturday, Rowley, who turned 27 on Monday, said: “A lot. A lot. Hundreds. Lot of old friends and college teammates, stuff like that. I’m trying to get back to everybody.”
Smiling, Rowley said he’d be thrilled if one of the messages buried in his phone was from Alex Azor, the guy who broke up his no-hitter in 2012.
According to the official U.S. Marine Corps website, Azor was promoted to the rank of Captain this past spring. Rowley rose to the rank of First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The Jays certainly valued leadership qualities in young players they signed back then.
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