AUBURN Peaks and valleys in the game’s popularity notwithstanding, baseball remains an essential part of the childhood and young adult experience for millions in the United States and around the world.

With a few notable exceptions, the only passage for any of us into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., requires the purchase of a ticket.

Larry Gowell of Auburn is one of those voluminous footnotes in baseball’s history, his eight years as a professional highlighted by a proverbial cup of coffee with the New York Yankees in 1972.

Try to calculate the odds of Gowell having ties to not one, but two, artifacts at the most hallowed museum in sports.

“The Hall of Fame isn’t going to take garbage,” Gowell said.

Gowell has enjoyed a lifetime of notoriety as the answer to a baseball trivia question. By belting a double against Milwaukee’s Jim Lonborg, Gowell became the final American League pitcher to register a base hit prior to the designated hitter rule.

That ball has been encased at the hall since November 1996.

Now, as the result of a project combining two of Gowell’s lifelong passions, lightning has struck twice.

Gowell contributed background vocals and a flugelhorn solo to a CD, “Playin’ Baseball,” recorded by his brother Dick under the stage pseudonym Ace Diamond.

A mix of original songs and cover versions of baseball standards by such music legends as Bruce Springsteen, John Fogerty and Kenny Rogers, the album was accepted in June by the hall of fame for use in its multi-media displays.

The matching hall of fame certificates adorn opposite walls in the living room of the brothers’ home on Seventh St.

“They thought it was good enough to use the music to promote baseball,” Larry Gowell said. “We are honored.”

Baseball and music are a common thread in Larry and Dick’s life journey.

Forty years ago, the brothers and their sister, Bev, made a harrowing five-hour drive through a snowstorm to a studio in Rockland to record their first work together.

The album sold more than 1,000 copies, and a single, “The Magic of Your Love,” became a local hit.

“It was in heavy rotation, as they used to say, on WLAM and WCOU. They played the heck out of it.” Dick Gowell said.

Diamond days

Two years earlier, Larry and Dick spent a year together playing minor league baseball in Oneonta, N.Y.

Larry, a fourth-round pick in a rich amateur draft class, began his ascent up the Yankees’ ladder. Dick, a reserve outfielder, played in a handful of games one summer and strummed his guitar on the endless bus trips.

“People told me to shut up once in a while,” Dick recalled.

Larry weaved an impressive 77-52 record in the Yankees’ system. He carved out a reputation as a workhorse despite being a strict Seventh-Day Adventist, a faith whose tenets prohibited him from pitching between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday on the church’s Sabbath.

Those limitations likely stunted his career in the major leagues, where other starting pitchers were less willing to adjust their places in the rotation to accommodate Gowell.

He set a minor league standard that unofficially stands today. Gowell threw 242 pitches in a 14-inning complete game at Elmira, N.Y.

“They carried me off the field,” Gowell said.

In the big leagues, Gowell’s greatest claim to fame unfolded at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 5, 1972.

Because the Yankees-Brewers game was played later in the day, Gowell earned the distinction over Nolan Ryan as the final AL hurler to get a hit as part of a starting lineup before the dawn of inter-league play.

“Ryan has all those records anyway. He didn’t need another one. I’m a nobody from nowhere in Maine,” Gowell joked. “As time goes by I seem to get more recognition for it. I still get fan mail.”

The Yankees recently discovered a photo of Gowell pitching in that game. He signed a waiver allowing the team to use it in return for a copy of the picture and a small check.

Lonborg outdueled Gowell in the game, 1-0. Gowell’s two-bagger was one of only three hits off Lonborg, the onetime Red Sox ace.

“I was in total shock. It was my first at-bat of the year because we had the DH in the minors that year,” Gowell said. “What are the odds of that? Probably a million to one.”

‘The ball was up at his eyes,” his brother chimed in. “It was a 3-2 pitch and he ripped it down the left field line.”

Perfect pitch

Dick Gowell’s moonlight career as a musician has spanned parts of six different decades. His original songs have been adopted by the Red Sox and the Colorado Rockies.

After a 10-year hiatus during which he said he became disillusioned with the business, Dick was lured back into it by friend and fellow musician Eddie Boucher.

Although the hall of fame certificate reads “The Gowell Brothers,” most of the songs showcase Dick’s voice and guitar. The lyrics in the album’s title track celebrate the brothers’ childhood baseball memories.

“I was sort of the entertainer on the (minor league) team when we played,” Dick said. “He was the star. I had to hit against him a few times in Legion ball. The one time I hit a groundball to short, I felt lucky.”

Music is now Larry and Dick’s primary pastime. Their home is dominated by instruments and recording equipment.

Larry, 62, has released a disc of inspirational songs entitled “Music For the Soul.” He is giving it away while accepting donations for his growing nursing home ministry.

“They all have a story. One lady told me her kids only visit on her birthday and Christmas. It’s sad,” Larry said. “Ladies, 98 years old, kissing my hand and saying, ‘Thank you. This is so wonderful.

The former professional athlete is now a semi-professional musician and part-time insurance salesman. In addition to performing in the choir at United Methodist Church in Auburn, Larry Gowell presents private and public concerts throughout the region.

Baseball remains a diversion. Gowell batted .662 this summer for his recreational softball team, sharing the field with players mostly too young to remember his small place in major league history. His son, Chad Holland, managed a high school team in Graham, N.C., to a best-ever runner-up finish in the state last spring.

But Larry’s priorities are away from the field.

“I practice at least two or three hours a day, trying to perfect songs. From the start of my life I’ve been known for baseball,” he said. “For the rest of my life I want to be known for my music.”

Between his efforts in local churches and his latest brush with baseball’s holy ground, Gowell is well on his way.

To obtain a copy of either Larry or Dick’s latest projects, call 784-7975, e-mail larrygowell@aol.com, or go to www.acediamond.info.

koakes@sunjournal.com


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