As our College Preview issue indicated, this is a big year at Stanford, as the Cardinal has high expectations in the final season of head coach Mark Marquess.
The school feted the retiring coach on Feb. 25, surprising him with a ceremony before a game against Kansas. More than 100 former Cardinal players showed up to honor Marquess, including former ace righty Jack McDowell, who pitched for Marquess from 1985-87.
McDowell's Cardinal career included a 1987 national championship, as he earned the win in the title game against Oklahoma State. He reached the major leagues three months later and won 127 games in a 12-year career cut short by an elbow injury. The 1993 Cy Young Award winner had a Stanford degree in communications to fall back on when his career was over, and he made an effort at a music career, making several CDs with his bands Stickfigure and V.I.E.W.
But the twice-married McDowell, who has seven children, stayed around the game through his kids. Thanks to them, he's done a little bit of everything in baseball. And by his estimation, it was all directing him toward coaching in college.
“It's the only level I haven't covered," he said. “I've covered them all, t-ball to pro ball. But what I've discovered is, my mentality and passion runs more to this level."
So when he went back to The Farm to help honor Marquess, McDowell had an ulterior motive. He needed direction from Marquess and former Stanford recruiting coordinator Dean Stotz. He's getting into their business, as the new head coach at Queens, a Division II college in Charlotte, N.C. The new program will start with a club team next spring and varsity status coming in 2019. He's starting from scratch; on this March afternoon, he was at his desk, poring over video and checking out scouting reports for prospective members of his first recruiting class.
Aside from getting advice from Marquess and Stotz, McDowell also has hit up California coach Dave Esquer, the shortstop on that 1987 Stanford team, for pointers on items like putting together a budget. He has plenty of pro ball influences as well. He specifically cited Joe Maddon, who was a coach at McDowell's final big league stop, the 1999 Angels.
“I probably would like to get as close to a Joe Maddon philosophy, that can build a team of grown men into a team that pulls together, has fun, plays relaxed and yet confident," he said. “There's a lot to be said for that."
McDowell gave pro ball a shot as a coach after eight seasons as a high school coach in the San Diego area. He said most of his pro ball opportunities had come on the pitching side but wanted to avoid being typecast for that role. The Dodgers hired him and he landed a spot as the manager at Rookie-level Ogden in 2014, also managing Los Angeles' Rookie-level Arizona League in 2015. AZL observers said McDowell's passion was evident, right down to his run-ins with umpires.
“In no way would I be anywhere near the coach I am now if I started off in pro ball," he said. “Coaching kids at every level, you learn different ways to get them to learn and to relate to kids at every level. You have to. Getting things across and learning what works—and what doesn't.
“You have to learn how to talk to someone to actually convey things to players, far beyond what someone going straight pro ball would know to do."
Now McDowell has to communicate to high school and junior-college players to try him out at a new baseball program with a first-time college coach. He's already established a basis for recruiting by working at the Carolinas Baseball Center, a training facility in the talent-rich Charlotte area featuring ex-pros such as Jeff Schaefer and Ross Gload.
His new program has other favorable assets aside from its big name coach, such as a pending deal to use a new city-built facility, about 15 minutes off campus. For the coach who used to answer to the nickname Black Jack, finding players who share his passion will be the challenge. He just can't get enough.
“Numbers alone cannot measure the instances when you have feel for the game, and you know your players, and you know the pitcher, and you know who can execute," he said. “You cannot quantify feel for the game."
Or passion for the game, which McDowell clearly still has.