Image credit: (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Getty Images)
Landon Powell figures all the stars aligned perfectly on May 9, 2010.
Dallas Braden was an Athletics lefthander whose fastball topped out at 88 mph in a so-so five-year major league career. Powell was a backup catcher throughout his three-year big league stay.
“The chances of he and I being in there that day in a perfect game,” Powell says today, “is just kind of insane, like winning the lottery twice.”
Powell caught all of Braden’s 107 pitches that day in Oakland against the Rays in what was then the 19th perfect game in major league history.
“I was never an all-star at the major league level and didn’t make tens of millions of dollars,” Powell says, “but I can always say I was one of the 22 catchers (there have been three since) to catch a perfect game in history.”
Today, Powell is the head coach at North Greenville, a nationally ranked Division II baseball program. The Crusaders likely will make a second NCAA Tournament appearance in four seasons under Powell while fighting long odds.
“It was a hard sell, to say the least, to a lot of college kids with everything going on (at North Greenville): bad baseball program, bad facility, a Christian school,” Powell says of initially recruiting players to the 2,260-student school in Tigerville, S.C. “I loved the fact that it is a Christian school, but there are a lot of kids where that’s not the kind of college experience they are looking for.”
Powell inherited a program that went 8-38 the previous season, and he immediately produced a 22-win season that included a Conference Carolinas tournament title. The Crusaders now play in a $1.5 million renovated ballpark with a turf field.
The North Greenville turnaround is somewhat symbolic of Powell’s life, which has included a series of setbacks and successes.
Powell converted a sterling four-season career at South Carolina, where he led the Gamecocks to three consecutive appearances in the College World Series, into a first-round draft selection by Oakland in 2004. The A’s also selected Huston Street and Kurt Suzuki in that draft.
Though he refuses to use it as an excuse, Powell admits that reaction to drug treatment for autoimmune hepatitis caused weight gain, muscle dehydration and vision reduction and ultimately curtailed his major league career. He played for the A’s from 2009-11 and batted .207/.284/.328, never starting more than 30 games in a season.
By 2013, Powell was playing Triple-A ball in the Astros organization when one of his twin daughters, Izzy, was born with the life-threatening immunodeficiency called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. She died in January 2014.
“There are a lot of parents in the world who lose a child, and very, very few of those have a twin of that child who they still get to celebrate and have,” Powell says. “I think that’s a blessing for us. It was awful to lose Izzy, and that scar will never be healed, but at the same time we have another beautiful daughter who we get to celebrate every day.”
Powell and his wife, Allyson, have a daughter, Ellie, and a son, Holden. They live in Greenville, S.C., where they host an annual “Donors on the Diamond” event in honor of their late daughter.