WAPPINGERS FALLS — It’s difficult to look at the gathering of white jerseys and not immediately notice Jacson McGowan. Sure, he’s one of the tallest position players on the Hudson Valley Renegades at 6-foot-3 and the heaviest at 212 pounds. But it’s the first baseman’s personality that sets him apart.

McGowan steps out of the crowd of teammates, almost all of whom are new to the team due to the annually shifting nature of playing for a short-season Class A affiliate. The Brownsburg, Ind., native is only one of four returnees on the roster and the lone non-pitcher with a year of Renegades experience behind him. He’s currently sporting a thick blonde mustache, symbolic of a 21-year-old who has already had to make several tough decisions but never forgets that he’s showing up to work each day to enjoy himself.

“All right, what do you mean,” McGowan asks. “Like growing up and stuff?”

He’s prompted on this Wednesday afternoon media day to go back to the beginning, and each scene he describes helps further explain why he’s entering this season with optimism, both personally and for his team.

McGowan started when he was 2 years old, playing catch with his two older brothers in the backyard. When he was old enough to compete, he pitched and played shortstop. He pictured himself on the mound in a major-league stadium, but dreams change over time. In sports, those changes are frequently a result of injury.

The only English speaker on the team was pitching for his new club in Miami at age 15 when, three innings in, he felt a sensation down his arm. He’d torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and returned home to Indiana the next day. After Tommy John surgery, McGowan was faced with the possibility of quitting baseball.

“Didn’t think I ever was going to return to it, honestly,” he said.

That winter, Jacson and his father, Steve, had a long conversation in which Jacson expressed his desire to keep playing. Steve told his son he shouldn’t stop playing baseball. There was only one caveat.

“Don’t pitch,” Steve said.

Determined to earn an athletic scholarship to college, the future Purdue product moved to third base and then eventually settled on first, where he will be starting again for the Renegades this season. He left the Boilermakers following a junior season with a .304 batting average, 13 home runs, a .992 fielding percentage at first base and a team-high 49 walks.

The 2018 11th-rounder was an all-star last season for a Renegades team that advanced to the New York-Penn league championship, falling to the Tri-City Valley Cats in the finals. McGowan hit .269, with 39 RBI and a pair of home runs.

"He’s going to be a major contributor this year and we expect a lot of good things out of him,” Renegades manager Blake Butera said.

As practice got underway on Wednesday, McGowan stepped to home plate first, swinging an invisible bat and then hustling toward first base, the place he found a home after pitching was no longer an option. He shares the dream of making the big leagues with every one of his teammates, but it wouldn’t be within McGowan’s character if he didn’t soak up every second while he’s still in the Hudson Valley.

“Be here as short as possible and move up,” McGowan said of his goal this season, “and if not, be here as long as possible and just have fun playing baseball and help us win.”


Twitter: @jfedichTHR