Baseball’s twists and turns have taken Andrew Susac near and far, and John Bowker near and really, really far.
Now the two local products who grew up as Giants fans, attending summer games at Raley Field in West Sacramento with oversize gloves in pursuit of foul balls, are navigating their way back to the big leagues. They are back in the city each anticipated they would come home to after their playing careers.
Bowker, a Rio Americano High School graduate, and Susac, from Jesuit, will start this season for the River Cats, each balancing patience and competitive drive. Both want to return to the Giants roster, having sampled success with the club before, albeit in different eras.
“It’s great to be here, with the franchise where it all started for me, and it’s exciting for my family and friends who can watch me play, but I’m also excited about a chance to return to the bigs,” said Bowker, an infielder. “I’ll do all I can to get back to the Giants. We all think that way.”
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Said Susac, a catcher: “All of us want to be in the big leagues, but this is a great consolation here at Raley Field, in my home town. I even get to see my younger brother, Daniel, grow. He looks different every time I see him.”
Bowker admits to feeling like “a real veteran now.” As a 24-year old, Bowker clubbed a home run in his major-league debut with the Giants on April 12, 2008, almost seven years to the date of today’s season opener against Salt Lake at Raley Field. He became the first player in Giants history to homer in his first two games. Bowker logged 111 games with the Giants in 2008, then powered out a bit. He was traded twice, eager for a fresh start.
Bowker, now 31, spent the past three seasons in Japan, mostly with another group of Giants, the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional League. He went to the Far East, initially leery and feeling out of place, adjusting to a different game, culture and language.
“I didn’t want to go to Japan,” Bowker said. “I wanted to play major-league baseball, but I knew I needed to play somewhere. I probably did fall off the radar. Once you’re gone from major-league baseball or an affiliate, people forget you. That’s why I was excited the Giants signed me again.
“I was really nervous at first in Japan. Almost right away, I was at ease. Fans there really embrace you, and it was great to live there. Great experience.”
Susac, 25, spent most of his baseball career on the West Coast. He excelled at Oregon State, got his minor-league start in Class-A San Jose and played 63 games last season with Triple-A Fresno before being called up to San Francisco. Backing up Buster Posey, Susac showed promise at the plate and behind it, winning a World Series ring in a ride he called, “a dream come true.”
The momentum Susac carried into spring training in Arizona soon became misery. Dealing with bone chips in his wrist was one thing. Dealing with a painful oral issue was another.
“I had a really bad root canal, which led to an infection that got into my sinuses, and I had to take a CAT scan because there was fear the infection would get into my brain, and then I was allergic to the antibiotics,” Susac said.
Susac’s fiancée, Maggie Dormus, found him in their Scottsdale hotel shivering, even under blankets. Even a hot shower couldn’t stop his shivering, the fever consuming him.
“I was shaking, out of it, and thinking, ‘What the heck is wrong with me,’” Susac said. “I didn’t think a tooth infection would lead to this. Thank God Maggie was there. She took me to the ER where they had me in warm towels, IV’s for fluids. I spent two days in ER. Wasn’t fun at all.”
All of Susac’s momentum was lost. He missed 10 days of spring training and lost 10 pounds. The Giants optioned him to Sacramento to give him at-bats, with Giants manager Bruce Bochy explaining: “Andrew lost some time. The tooth infection slowed him down and, of course, the wrist injury. We want him to get some playing time. He just needs to play. This kid, I said this last year, he made so much progress both from the catching side and offensive side. There’s not one thing we gave him to work on. Just go down there (to Sacramento) and get some playing time.”
Susac said he understands the reasoning behind the move to Triple A.
“The Giants want me to play every day and not once every six or so days,” Susac said. “It was a bitter pill. It was a really disheartening spring training, tough to go into it in such good shape, feeling strong, then it’s all gone with the tooth and wrist. I’m feeling better. I’m ready.”
River Cats general manager Chip Maxson said Susac’s attitude has been great. “He’s a class act,” Maxson said.
River Cats pitcher Brett Bochy, son of the Giants manager, said Susac is a natural leader, and a pretty good tour guide.
“He’s not complaining too much about being here because he’s home in Sacramento,” Brett Bochy said. “You can definitely tell he’s proud to be be from here. He’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse. He’ll able to show us around town, tell us all the cool local spots.”
The River Cats’ roster also includes two others who were on the Giants World Series roster. Right hander Hunter Strickland, the presumed closer for the River Cats, and outfielder Juan Perez. Bruce Bochy wants both to “work on their game.”
Strickland and Perez said they are eager to get the season started with the River Cats, but with a long-term eye to San Francisco.
“I know that these guys all want to get to the bigs,” River Cats manager Bob Mariano said. “Some things they can’t control. The two things they can all control are effort and attitude, and they all know that.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.