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Carroll, Connor, Cowan address BHS baseball

Bearden players listen as Brett Carroll, Florida Marlins outfielder and former BHS standout shortstop, illustrates how intimidated he was playing in New Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, during one of his first Major League Baseball games- Alan Sloan/farragutpress
From Bearden High School to Kentucky to Yankee Stadium, Mark Connor's rise ending as a New York Yankees pitching coach began as a BHS Bulldog.

Connor, a Major League pitching coach for a handful of teams who currently serves as assistant to the general manager with the Texas Rangers, was one of three guest speakers at Bearden Baseball Diamond Dinner, Sunday evening, Jan. 31, at Rothchild Catering & Conference Center.

Brett Carroll, Florida Marlins outfielder and former BHS standout shortstop, and Richard Cowan, former head coach of Bearden girls basketball and Bull-dogs baseball during a 26-year stint, also addressed BHS coaches, players and parents.

“My whole life, my whole career, changed because of that one year,” Connor said about his one season as BHS baseball head coach in the late 1970s. “People say, what did coaching at Bearden do to get you to be the pitching coach with the New York Yankees?”

After coaching BHS that spring, Connor said he gathered the returning Bulldogs “and we played all summer.”

That included “a little tournament in Paintsville, Ky.,” Connor added. “We won the tournament, played great. And I made a friend.”

Coincidentally, Connor said a “radio station owner” in Paintsville he befriended had been trying to persuade a Major League organization to place one of its minor league teams there.

“That winter, the New York Yankees placed a minor league club in Paintsville, Ky.,” Connor said. “That's how I got started with the New York Yankees. [The friend] recommended me as farm director and vice president [of the new farm team].

“I got interviewed and got the job in Paintsville, Ky.,” added Connor, also former baseball head coach at The University of Tennessee.

In his early 30s with the Yankees' Class AAA team, Connor recalled a life-changing message in Rochester, N.Y., prior to a game.

“The manager of the club calls me in and goes, 'You're going to New York tomorrow ... you're going to become the big league pitching coach,'” he said. “'They're firing the guy up there,' who was my best friend.”

While saying it was “fun working up there,” Connor added about being a Yankees coach, “The first time I went up there I was scared to death. The whole pitching staff was older than I was: Ron Guidry, Tommy John, Phil Niekro, Joe Niekro, all these guys.”

Carroll said he was “taking a nap” upon getting a fateful call during his fourth year in the minor leagues. “I got a phone call from my [Class] AAA manager ... sure enough, he called me and said ... pack your bags tonight, you're going to the big leagues.

“Completely caught me off-guard.”

Carroll said he told family members “not to fly out” to Kansas City, where his Marlins were facing the Royals, because it was unlikely he would play.

Next thing Carroll knows, he's told “get your jersey, you're in the lineup tonight,” the ex-Bulldog standout recalled. “It was definitely overwhelming, but it was exciting.

“Unfortunately, two throwing errors later, and a strikeout to end the game, was my Major League debut,” he added.

But with a number of clutch performances under his belt, including a home run off perennial all-star Randy Johnson, Carroll added, “I'm very blessed waking up every day getting to do what I do.”

Through it all, “What matters most to me is my relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” he said. “I know I wouldn't be here today without that daily relationship.”

Jack Tate, new BHS varsity baseball head coach, said Cowan “really gave me my start coaching at Bearden” in 1983, the first of two seasons Cowan served as baseball head coach.

“He had confidence in me. ... I think I've learned more from Richard Cowan than almost anyone else in my life,” Tate added.

Cowan currently teaches at Christian Academy of Knoxville, where he was girls basketball head coach and athletics director before resigning those posts.

“Although I'm a Warrior right now, I'll tell you what, I'm always going to be a Bulldog the rest of my life,” he said.

Cowan said he attempted “to walk the walk” and play baseball at UT as a freshman first baseman in the mid-1960s.

However, Vols multi-sport All-American Ron Widby had other ideas.

“I look out the corner of my eye and here comes Widby ... he was a big, ole guy. I look in his hands and he's got a first baseman's mitt,” Cowan said. “I'm not too smart, but I was smart enough to know I wasn't going to beat Ron Widby out at first base.

“So I reached down, got my fielder's glove, and I trotted my little body out to left field, where I started that freshman year.”

However, “My baseball career was over at the end of my freshman year,” Cowan added.

The former BHS coach said Tate's chance to be a head coach was long overdue, adding he was “one of the best teachers we had a Bearden High School” while Cowan was a colleague.

Cowan's combined coaching wins in baseball and girls basketball “probably [is] more wins than any coach ever at Bearden High School,” Tate added.


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