Legends pitcher Chowning, a Kentuckian, is a gamer

Legends' Kentuckian masters slider, 'Call of Duty'

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJune 11, 2011 

What most Lexington Legends fans know about Jason Chowning is:

■ He recently earned team Pitcher of the Month honors for May;

■ At 6-foot-4, he's a right-hander with a wicked slider;

■ From Middletown, he is only the third native Kentuckian to play for the team in its 11 seasons.

What few followers of the team know, though, is that Chowning is the first player in the Legends' 11-year history who also once was on the University of Kentucky roster.

At Eastern High School, Chowning was a three-year letter-winner and made it to the regional tournament every season.

From there, he moved to UK and was on the fall roster.

However, Chowning clashed with then-coach John Cohen (now at Mississippi State) and left UK before making it to the 2007 regular season. He wound up at Texarkana (junior) College.

"We bumped heads a few times," Chowning said of Cohen. "He was pretty blunt. He told you how it was. He said, "As a freshman you'll probably pitch a little bit, but not as much as you want. If you want to do that, you can stay here and play. If not, well, go.' So I left and got a lot of experience at Texarkana, and that really paid off."

Chowning said he chose junior college because he would have had to sit out a year if he had transferred to a Division I program. He completed two seasons, striking out 127 over 116 innings, making it to two regional tournaments and earning NJCAA all-star honors.

Then, he moved on for two years at Oklahoma University, where he earned a sociology-criminology degree. (He'd like to do field work for the FBI when his playing days end.)

The Sooners went 93-38, advancing to the regional finals his junior year and to the College World Series last year. He pitched only six innings over six games in 2009, going 1-0, and worked 211⁄3 innings over 13 games last year, again going 1-0.

The Houston Astros drafted him in the 28th round of the 2010 draft and assigned him to the Tri-City ValleyCats of the New York-Penn League.

Chowning made 16 relief appearances for Tri-City, going 2-2 with a 3.22 ERA.

He found out the last week of spring training that he would be coming to Lexington this season.

"It's actually a great feeling to be home," he said. "A lot of family and friends come out to see me all the time, so it's good to see familiar faces."

The Legends have been pleased with Chowning, too.

"A strike-thrower, really good competitor," Manager Rodney Linares said. "Goes out there, throws his breaking ball for strikes, commands it real well."

Through Thursday, Chowning has worked 291⁄3 innings over 15 relief appearances. He is 1-2 with a 1.23 ERA, has 34 strikeouts to nine walks, and has held opponents to a .219 batting average.

"I'd say the most comfortable pitch is probably slider," Chowning said. "It's my go-to pitch. I can throw it for a strike almost every time."

Chowning also throws a curveball. What helped him take off in May, though, was something else.

"It's fastball, fastball, fastball with him," said Dave Borkowski, the Legends' pitching coach. "His fastball command was lacking from last year and it wasn't as sharp in April. He worked on it and he commanded his fastball much, much better in May. And his off-speed stuff has always been good."

At 23, he is one of the older Legends. As serious as he is on the mound, though, he's all fun-and-games off the field. Video games.

"At one point, I was ranked 14th in the world in Call (of) Duty," he said. "About 9 million people play, so that's pretty good. I dabble."

Linares says Chowning brings out the kid in the manager, too.

"He's kind of a little bit hyper," Linares said. "But every time I look at him, I just smile. I ask him all the time what is he taking because I want some."

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