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Where Have You Gone, Jayhawk Owens?
04/24/2002 2:26 AM ET

Jayhawk Owens counts himself among those wondering what would have happened if he hadn't suffered a serious thumb injury during the final week of Spring Training in 1996, just as the Colorado Rockies were granting him the everyday catching job?

Owens would be limited to 73 games that season. Those would be his last with the Rockies.

"If you don't look back and say what if, you're not human," Owens said, "I do that all the time."

But Owens, 33, does not just look back. From the moment the injury derailed one dream, Owens began a new dream that he is starting to realize now.

Owens worked in the Houston Astros organization the past two years as a coach on teams that won Single-A championships. In his first year managing the Stockton Ports, a Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, Owens has a first-place team and big-time aspirations.

"It never crossed my mind until I had that bad thumb injury," Owens said from a hotel room in Bakersfield, Calif. "I was really struggling, trying to play the game, and I started thinking of what I wanted to do when the game was over.

"I feel like I kind of made the right choice. For me, it's kind of like a new calling. I'd like to be a Major League manager, possibly a general manager although I enjoy being on the field."

Owens, who played a total of 130 games for Colorado 1993-96 (.232, 11 HR, 36 RBIs), certainly enjoyed being on the field -- during the games and, even afterward.

"One of the best baseball times I ever had was playing at Mile High Stadium in the inaugural season, the Fourth of July fireworks game," Owens said. "We won the game; I caught. After the game, I went back onto the field and, oh, gosh, 60,000 people and I sat on the field and watched the fireworks. It was an amazing place to play baseball.

"One of the neatest things was in '95 when we won the wild card and I was on the postseason roster. A lot of guys who had played a long time never got to the postseason. It was different, playing against the Braves. Every pitch, every swing, you were holding your breath, gripping the handlebars tighter. And Coors Field was a great atmosphere."

Owens said the Rockies' atmosphere was perfect for him. Colorado selected him from the Minnesota organization in the expansion draft, and general manager Bob Gebhard and manager Don Baylor gave him every chance to succeed. Also, Owens discovered that he could inspire others no matter what the statistics said about his career.

Owens was born Claude Jayhawk Owens II on Feb. 10, 1969 in Cincinnati. He said he never was ashamed of the Cherokee heritage that was the source of his middle name, but "only my best friends ever knew." During his collegiate career at Middle Tennessee State and early in his pro career he was known as "J. Owens."

"Lo and behold, the media, they've got their secret places where they can find things," he said. "They found out that J. stood for Jayhawk and I was approached. They said, 'Do you mind if we call you that.' I said fine. I was more worried about getting to the ballpark on time."

Former Rockies media relations director Mike Swanson, now with Arizona, received Owens' blessing to use Jayhawk officially. He credits Swanson with helping him realize the power in the name.

"He set me up with a couple of small functions in lower-income areas," Owens said. "I basically played around with some of the kids and read books to them, just to kind of touch them and let them know their dreams can come through if you aim high.

"It was a really touching experience. I just felt a lot of them felt where they were was all they could get to. In America, that's not true. You can get to where you want."

Owens believes he is on his way.

Thomas Harding covers the Rockies for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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