Former VMI right-hander Coby Cowgill was drafted by the Texas Rangers this past June and began his professional career shortly thereafter. In the mold of current VMI volunteer assistant coach Mike Roberts, who completed his degree this past year, Cowgill has returned to the Institute with the goal of working toward completing his VMI education. Below is a Q&A session that VMI Athletic Communications conducted with Cowgill recently.
Q: Coby, what has it been like coming back to VMI to work on finishing your degree? Not everyone does that, but you’ve gone from a mound in Hickory to barracks in a matter of a few August days…Tell us what that’s been like and the process of reintegrating.
A: Coming back to VMI has been my plan ever since the possibility of getting drafted and leaving after my junior year arose. I made a promise to my coaches, my academic advisor (the one and only Colonel Bush), myself, and most importantly my parents that I would finish my degree. My daily routine at VMI has not changed much from previous fall semesters because Coach Ikenberry has allowed me to work out with the team. I still go down to the field a few days week to hit fungos, my favorite thing to when I’m not on the mound. In addition, I have my off season workouts, along with the normal academic coursework. When the season ended in Hickory I only had about 36 hours before I was required to report to the Institute. Luckily, my Mom was able to organize my VMI gear so I could visit with family a little before leaving. Once I returned to the Institute, it was an adjustment due to the drastic change in lifestyles but thankfully I had my roommates, teammates, and Brother Rat’s for support and to get me up to speed with everything that I had missed. The biggest challenge for me was the difference in sleep schedules. Minor League games often ran late into the night and I was not going to bed until 2 or 3 in the morning, but here at school you better make sure you are up and on time for BRC (Breakfast Roll Call) at 0700, “0 dark 30.”
Q: Obviously your education, coming back to VMI, is a high priority for you…What do you plan to do with your degree after your baseball career wraps up?
A: I honestly am not exactly sure what I want to do with my degree in Business and Economics. Fortunately, my degree affords industry flexibility and can be applied in numerous career fields. If I didn’t have baseball and was graduating in May, I would probably like to enter into some aspect of Law Enforcement, for example, DEA, U.S. Marshalls or possibly local enforcement. I would like to continue my baseball career as long as possible so my focus and energy is directed at that right now.
Q: What has VMI come to mean to you?
A: VMI is a college unlike any other, priding itself on discipline, honor and integrity, which is something you cannot find at just any college. VMI has grown on me over the years. At first I was constantly trying to figure out why I came to school here and often struggled to come up with an answer. Now as a first classman, with my days as a cadet dwindling, it is all coming full circle. VMI forces you to grow up, become accountable for your actions, while allowing you to receive a nationally recognized degree. VMI has gotten me this far and I will continue to use the life lessons learned here in my everyday life.
Q: Out in the baseball world, what is the reaction when people learn you’re from VMI? Positive, negative, indifferent?
A: When people find out I attended VMI, a puzzled look usually comes across their face. The majority of the time I have to explain what VMI stands for and then once they find out it is a military school, I usually get a lot of questions. “Do you have to wear uniforms, do you get yelled at, is there a commissioning requirement?, etc.” VMI definitely is a great conversation piece and it has afforded the opportunity for me to get to know my teammates because they are often very intrigued. Overall I would have to say the reaction is very positive.
Q: Coby, you played with three different teams in this, your first professional season. First off, can you tell us something about each location, about each level you played at (positives, lessons learned, etc)?
A: I began my professional career in Spokane, Washington playing for the Spokane Indians. It was my first time ever spending an extended period of time on the West Coast; the only other time I had been there was when we played at Oregon State my sophomore year. Spokane is much different than Virginia, the people, climate, wildlife, but the mountains did remind me a bit of Lexington. In Spokane, I was fortunate enough to live with my Aunt and Uncle who live in nearby Idaho, about 20 minutes from the ballpark. It was a blessing in disguise because I had not seen them in quite some time, and it was nice to reconnect and spend some time with them. The ballpark and fan base in Spokane was unlike anything I had ever been a part of; they love Indians baseball, which made it very exciting to go to the ballpark each night. Unfortunately my time in Spokane was cut short due to an injury and I was reassigned to Surprise, Arizona.
In Arizona I rehabbed my shoulder for two weeks and eventually joined the AZL Rangers team. Arizona was unlike any place I had ever been, it was unusual to be surrounded by desert as far as you could see, with the only grass on the ball field or golf course. Not to mention the heat, just imagine a blow dryer being blown in your face constantly, I definitely missed the cool breezes. The craziest weather of all had to be the random dust storms that blanketed the air with red clay, yet we still played through them. After about a month in Arizona, I got the call to return to the East Coast.
With about three weeks left in the regular season I joined the Hickory Crawdads, meeting up with them on the road in Hagerstown, Maryland. I was very excited to get to A-ball because I was back healthy and ready to compete against the highest level of competition so far in my young career. Hickory was a nice change from Arizona; I missed playing in stadiums in front of crowds every night, plus my family was able to see me play professionally for the first time. During my time as a part of the Crawdads I got the first taste of a playoff race, despite falling just short and returning to the VMI shortly after the completion of the regular season.
Q: You played with two notable prospects in the Texas organization, Joey Gallo (#3 prospect in Arizona Rookie League) and Roughed Odor (#20 prospect in South Atlantic League). Tell us about them.
A: Joey Gallo may have the rawest power of any hitter I have ever played with or against. It definitely made batting practice exciting because the pitchers would bet on how many bombs he would hit that day. Joey is a great person, on and off the field, and a remarkable talent, and it will be fun to play alongside him and watch him progress through the minor leagues to eventually get his chance on the big stage.
Rougned Odor or “Roogy” as we call him might be the best professional player I was fortunate enough to play with. It is fun to watch him go about his routine on a daily basis. He regularly would attempt to catch more fly balls than the outfielders during batting practice, routinely make plays at second base worthy of a web gem, or be responsible for the walk off hit that gets him mobbed afterwards. He definitely taught me quality lessons about what it means to be a professional.
Q: Any other players (Texas or not) that you were particularly high on? Guys you faced that you thought were very talented?
A: You can look at any roster in the minor leagues on any given night and there will be a top prospect that grabs your attention. You know you are going to be playing against some the best this game has to offer on a nightly basis, whether it being in rookie ball or Triple-A. There were multiple players to note, but while in Arizona a teammate of mine, Nomar Mazara, was extremely impressive. To put into perspective, he is 17 years old, should be in his senior year of high school, yet he is hitting third in a lineup full of talented players and playing a quality outfield. Mazz and I were locker neighbors, and during my time in Arizona I realized how incredibly mature he is for a 17 year old, with an unbelievably bright future ahead of him.
Q: Are there any stories, any particular adventures, you’d like to share from your first season in professional baseball?
A: Throughout the summer, at each level, there was always someone who had played with or against a buddy of mine. For example, Zach Cone, our centerfielder in Hickory, played with former Keydet closer, Mike Devine, in the Cape Cod league one summer. It was fun swapping stories and realizing just how small the baseball world really is and how we are all connected in one way or another.
Cowgill closed his answers with the following: BaseCo will always hold a special place in my heart and I cannot thank the coaching staff enough, most importantly Coach Ike, for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a great program.