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Carpooling to the Big Show | Baseball

Taylor Smart (upper left) and Jordan Cowan (right) carpool together from Maple Valley and Covington, respectively, to play for the Seattle Mariners minor league affiliate in Everett. - Eric Mandel
Taylor Smart (upper left) and Jordan Cowan (right) carpool together from Maple Valley and Covington, respectively, to play for the Seattle Mariners minor league affiliate in Everett.
— image credit: Eric Mandel

Taylor Smart and Jordan Cowan are friends and rivals; teammates from an early age who ended up thousands of miles apart, but now share a simple car ride on the road to the majors.

They took diverging routes to the same place.

“Coming out of high school he had a little jump start,” said Smart, a 22-year-old infielder from Maple Valley. “We each had different paths and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything. He got picked out of high school and I got picked out of college.”

The Seattle Mariners drafted Smart, a 2010 Tahoma High School graduate, in the 26th round of the 2014 draft, assigning him to the A-league affiliate Everett AquaSox. In the process, he joined Cowan, 19, who was drafted directly out of Kentlake High School in the 37th round of the 2013 draft and sent to the Aqua Sox after spending last season with two Mariners’ Rookie league affiliates.

Cowan remembers listening to the draft when he heard Smart’s name called.

“I was like, ‘what, who? I know that guy,’” said Cowan, a sweet-swinging lefty second baseman.

After two successful seasons at Western Nevada College, Smart finished his career at the University of Tennessee where the right-hander batted .280, with a .381 on-base percentage, with six home runs and 48 RBIs.

Cowan, hit .255 over 44 games on two rookie-level teams in 2013.

Although the AquaSox sit at the bottom of the Northwest League standings, Cowan has put together strong offensive numbers for a second basemen. He ranked near the top of the team with a .284 batting average through 23 games, as of Tuesday. Smart has had a slower start, batting just .220, but had notched nine RBI’s. Smart should have collected his first professional home run on July 9, for a ball that appeared to hit a metal sign beyond the fence, but the umpires ruled it stayed in play. AquaSox manager Dave Valle argued the call and received his first career ejection as manager.

Smart said Cowan has helped ease the transition to professional baseball, although his stroke at the plate hasn’t yet caught up with his defensive prowess.

“I’ve been playing pretty dang good defense,” said Smart, who mainly plays shortstop and third base, but can play three infield positions. “I’ve struggled a bit offensively — it’s a bit of an adjustment period. I’m not worried about it at all... As hard as it is, you can’t look at the numbers because it’s only going to mess with your head.”

Cowan said his professional experience is enhanced by having a familiar face along for the ride.

“I’d always been watching him play and learning from him and now I get to play with him,” Cowan said. “It’s pretty cool.”

The pair grew up together in baseball through the well-known Stubby’s Infield camps run by Bill Stubbs. Despite a three year age difference, the double team partners gained a rapport together.

“We were a little apart in age but we always liked playing with each other,” Smart said. “We would see each other most every day in the summer and work out together.”

Cowan even remembers trying to mimic Smart’s fielding mechanics when growing up.

“He’s like a big brother to me,” Cowan said.

Despite the natural rivalry between Tahoma and Kentlake, Smart said the competition never soured their relationship.

“We never liked each other’s high school teams but we always liked each other and respected each other,” he said.

Somehow, despite their lofty big league dreams, Smart doesn’t remember any conversations about playing together in the pros.

“It’s kind of crazy how it all worked out,” Smart said. “It’s just kind of one of those weird coincidence things, but kind of cool how it happened.”

Since both players live at home with their parents, the drives to Everett Memorial Stadium have been relatively easy. Smart’s car still remains in Tennessee, so Cowan’s been doing the driving thus far. Typically, 90s hip hop, rap or techno bounce out the stereo speakers, as the pair talk about the last game, next game and/or upcoming road trips. It takes between 50 minutes and 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on traffic. They usually arrive before the rest of their teammates.

“We’re always talking baseball, so it kind of helps,” Smart said.

Minor league baseball can be cutthroat, everyone aiming for solid stats to get noticed and advance toward the big club. But Smart doesn’t look at his fellow infielder as competition.

“I don’t think you can really look at it like that,” Smart said. “We each want to be successful. It’s going to come down to who produces. If we both succeed, we both succeed.”

There’s no crystal ball into baseball future and Smart doesn’t really consider the possibility of playing side-by-side with his friend in Mariner’s caps. He’s busy focused on the now, not the potential five or six years, quite literally, down the road at Safeco Field.

Though, he admits, it would be pretty cool.

“It would be crazy if both of us got up there,” Smart said. “I don’t think I could even put that into words.”

 

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