Loewen plays on -- without O's

Not fond of contract offer, fourth overall draft pick joins Team Canada lineup

July 19, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - The digital clocks flanking the SkyDome scoreboard said 8:51 yesterday morning when Orioles first-round draft pick Adam Loewen stepped into the batter's box.

Something was wrong with that picture.

Loewen, an 18-year-old left-handed pitcher with a 94-mph fastball, has clear-cut goals of playing in major-league stadiums someday, but not like this. Not as a designated hitter. Not with Team Canada. Not 10 hours before the Orioles game begins.

Instead of pitching for Rookie-level Aberdeen this summer, Loewen is biding his time as a position player with the Canadian junior national team while he waits out the predictably slow-moving negotiations that will determine his future.

"I had hoped to get it rolling quicker," Loewen said, "but I get to play in the world championships, and that's not bad. And if everything doesn't work out [with the Orioles], I can always go to Arizona State or a junior college."

Loewen graduated from Fraser Valley Christian High in Surrey, British Columbia, this spring, and the Orioles took him with the fourth overall selection in the June 4 draft - higher than any Canadian had ever been selected.

A short time later, the Orioles made an offer to Loewen, and the negotiations haven't moved since.

Loewen is seeking something close to the $4.2 million signing bonus last year's No. 4 pick, Mount St. Joseph pitcher Gavin Floyd, received from the Philadelphia Phillies. The Orioles' offer is believed to be closer to the $2.5 million bonus the Cincinnati Reds gave this year's No. 3 pick, Chris Gruler.

"We've already made our offer; the next move is up to them," said Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift. "You're not going to bid against yourself."

If and when Loewen attends his first class at Arizona State in late August, the Orioles will lose his rights. For now, Loewen is just trying to enjoy his third summer playing for Team Canada.

With the World Youth Championships starting Aug. 1 in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the Canadians began exhibition play with a loss to Team USA on Wednesday and a victory over the Central Ontario Stars yesterday, both at SkyDome.

With millions at stake, Loewen has decided not to risk an arm injury by pitching for Team Canada. So he played first base Wednesday and served as designated hitter yesterday, batting third in the lineup.

"He's our best hitter," said Team Canada coach Greg Hamilton. "He's our best player. He can do whatever he wants on the field, basically."

Yesterday's game started at 8:30 a.m., and with the squad stationed one hour outside Toronto, Loewen and his teammates woke at 5:45. He singled in his first at-bat through the hole between shortstop and third, and finished the game 1-for-4.

Loewen, whose favorite player growing up was fellow Canadian Larry Walker, is being driven by a certain amount of national pride this season. He wants Team Canada to make a good showing at the world championships, even if his only contributions come at the plate.

"It doesn't bother me that much," Loewen said of his decision not to pitch. "I know I'll be pitching the rest of my life, and I won't get to hit, so it's kind of like my last chance."

To maintain his arm strength, Loewen throws off a bullpen mound twice a week and plays long toss in between those sessions. After yesterday's game, he spent 15 minutes jogging along the warning track between the foul poles.

At 6 feet 6, 210 pounds, Loewen still has the fresh face of a recent high school graduate, but his demeanor is mostly business.

"His character is tremendous," Hamilton said. "I've never had a concern about it. He's a low-maintenance kid to coach. You don't have to tell him to do something more than once.

"He has the unique ability of elevating his game with the competition. He loves big games. He handles pressure tremendously well."

Eventually, the Orioles might get a chance to find out for themselves.

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