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'I'm still 80 per cent good'

Former top pitching prospect Noah Lowry moves on with life after career cut short by devastating arm injury

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. -- Noah Lowry can barely hold his two young daughters with his left arm, let alone contemplate ever throwing another pitch.

Even the simple task of taking the mound for a ceremonial first toss practically makes him cringe. Lowry insists that would be impossible with his troublesome left side and the regular pain he still experiences despite four surgeries.

The very arm that made Lowry a first-round draft pick and landed him a long-term contract at age 25 forced him out of baseball.

"I miss it. A big part of me misses it," Lowry said. "But that's life. Life is a lot of twists and turns. It's a big part of who I am and what I was."

Now, he is in a good place -- three years after his career ended prematurely with a cancelled throwing session, and nearly six years since he last pitched in a major league game for the Giants.

Experiencing tingling and nerve problems in his pitching arm, Lowry missed the final month in 2007 and still led San Francisco with 14 wins.

These days, he lives just 55 miles north of AT&T Park in the Sonoma wine country, where he and two partners bought Santa Rosa Ski and Sports last August. He joined the Chamber of Commerce and makes time to speak with young athletes.

Lowry is proud that his former Giants franchise captured two World Series titles in the past three years.

"I feel like that ring is here already," he said, touching his heart with his hand. "You're with them emotionally."

Lowry will return to the ballpark one day and revisit all the memories of a career cut short, even the most painful ones. The Giants say they will welcome him back whenever that day arrives.

As much as he would love to fling one last pitch -- in a game or otherwise -- the 32-year-old knows full well his shoulder, neck, forearm and elbow would tell him no.

"I could lob it up there, then click, clap, pop, boom, bang, bing," he said, demonstrating near his store's sales counter a circular motion of just how poorly his arm would perform. "That's not how I want to be remembered."

Not with a shoulder that has never recovered from all the wear and tear, a left arm that has endured operations on each side of his elbow, and a troublesome neck that will one day require fusing and cause him to "move like a robot," as he puts it. He will avoid that procedure as long as possible so he can continue to be active with his children and do things he loves, like golf.

Lowry, selected 30th overall by San Francisco in the 2001 amateur draft, underwent four operations in three years, including the opening of his upper chest area near the neck for the removal of a couple of ribs to relieve a circulatory problem.

He knows the Giants medical staff tried to make him right.

"I have issues all over the place," Lowry said with a smile of his current self. "Those guys over there, that staff, they're good people. They did everything they could possibly try to do with my best interest at hand, their best interest. That organization is a model organization, it really is, and should be respected and is respected. Life moves on for us all, right?"

In the spring of 2008, he was diagnosed with exertional compartment syndrome, an exercise-induced neuromuscular condition. He struggled with control at spring training, returned to the Bay Area for further tests and had surgery to repair the rare nerve problem in his forearm.

He had hoped to return by mid-April but still was experiencing the tingling sensation in his arm. Lowry rehabilitated that entire season, then underwent arthroscopic surgery after the year on the back of his pitching elbow to remove bone spurs.

By the time of Lowry's neck procedure in May 2009, Lowry's agent, Damon Lapa, had accused the Giants of misdiagnosing the pitcher.

"The Giants organization and its medical staff have always treated Noah Lowry's condition appropriately and with the utmost care," the team responded in a statement then. "We have never performed any medically inappropriate procedures on Mr. Lowry."

Lowry is long past all of that. The Giants are, too -- both sides saddened he couldn't keep pitching for the organization.

Lowry went 40-31 with a 4.03 ERA in 100 big league starts and six relief appearances in parts of five big league seasons. He earned nearly $11 million from major league contracts and his signing bonus out of college.

"You hate to see anybody's career end early," Giants assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. "We drafted him. I'm a big Noah Lowry guy. I remember him right after he signed, all the way to the big leagues, his success, a multiyear deal. Nothing but good things to say about Noah Lowry. It's hard. I'm sure he was just going through the difficulties of being hurt, year after year trying to get yourself right. I know it was frustrating. He's always been a great kid. He'll always be a Giant for us."

The last the baseball world knew, Lowry was scheduled to throw for scouts from about half the major league clubs in February 2010. But it was too soon, Lowry's body told him so. He hasn't been on a mound since.

"Time falls off the map," Lowry said. "It was a wild ride there for a little bit, but all things that I needed. It was, 'Wow, this is OK, but no it's not OK and things are still going on, we're trying to get it better and things are still going on."'

The low-key, outgoing Lowry -- who was first on a pair of skis at about age five -- goes to work in a T-shirt and jeans, a black "Nor Cal" cap with the brim flipped up and his brown curly hair poking out the back.

He is having a blast using some of business skills he learned at Pepperdine, and others he taught himself by dabbling in the real estate business and turning over houses while rehabilitating all his injuries in Arizona. On a recent Sunday, the owners closed the shop at one of the busiest areas of Santa Rosa and took their entire staff on an outing to Lake Tahoe for one final day on the slopes.

Still, it hurts to hold his daughters, two-year-old Averlee Rose and nearly three-month-old Anniston. While Lowry can still golf, other activities that require gripping present a challenge. He is committed to a healthy diet and says, "I stay away from things I can't do."

There are no hard feelings now, and Lowry isn't bitter about the altered path of his career or life. He and his wife, Andrea, would love to expand their family eventually -- "keep the family name going," Lowry said of adding a boy to his brood.

"Early on it was an emotional breakup, I feel like, but at the same time, it's water under the bridge in my world," Lowry said. "There were a lot of things I had to have done moving forward from there. I'm just at a point in my life, from a physical standpoint I'm beat up, I'm broken up. But I still have the rest of my body and life about me and I gave everything I could give there, my blood, sweat and tears, literally everything. I take from it a good experience."

Andrea Lowry wouldn't change things, despite how tough it was to see her husband go through the injuries and early exit from the game he so loved.

"I strongly believe that everything happens for a reason," she said. "We feel blessed for the time that we spent with the San Francisco Giants organization. Although at times the experience tested our faith and strength, we move forward with great memories, not to mention lasting friendships... If I can tell you one thing about Noah, it is that he is exceedingly driven, so I am truly eager to see what the future holds for us and our two beautiful daughters."

And he will keep holding those little girls with his good arm.

"Life brings us all sorts of things. Everything needed to happen," Lowry said. "I'm left with what I'm left with, and I'm still 80 per cent good. I've still got my mind and body about me, and the arm -- I've got one of them."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 28, 2013 A1

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