Larry Bowa is 75 years old and back at spring training in Clearwater, Fla. His title is senior adviser, but his routine is not one you’d see being performed by a typical senior citizen of his similar age.
He’s up early, at the ballpark before 7 a.m. and on the elliptical for a 45-minute stride before 8. He follows that up by either doing 10 wind sprints or going for a long walk around the four Carpenter Complex fields.
And then he begins his work as a guest spring-training instructor for manager Joe Girardi’s Phillies.
“I still really enjoy it,” Bowa said recently during a phone interview. “There’s just something about being affiliated with big-league baseball. If somebody had told me I’d still be doing this at 75 when I first signed I would have said, ‘Yeah, right.’ I don’t really feel my age. I was blessed not to have a lot of injuries when I played. A lot of times when you get hurt and have injuries you feel them as you get older, but I feel fine.
“My work ethic has always been off the charts ever since I started playing, so I think that has stayed with me. It’s something that I like doing. Do I think it’s boring sometimes? Yeah, but I do think it helps you as you get older. It allows you to do things that you might not have thought possible at this age.”
Bowa’s main office in Clearwater is the half field that sits just beyond the entrance to the clubhouse at newly named Phillies Spring Training Ballpark. That’s where he has mentored young infielders for the last eight years. There are no stats for the number of fungoes hit during a coaching or managerial career, but if there were Bowa would have to be near or perhaps even at the top. New York Times national baseball columnist Tyler Kepner has suggested that the half field in Clearwater be named after Bowa and it’s a great idea.
For now, however, Bowa is simply content to be in spring training even if it is the oddest camp he has ever attended.
“You get tested [for COVID-19] every other day,” Bowa said. “You do the spit test on your way in and that’s something you really have to get used to. You have trainers walking around saying, ‘Hey, put your mask on, pull it up higher, you’re not covering your nose.’ It’s not annoying. I’m glad they’re doing it. But it’s different.
“There’s hand sanitizer every 10 feet. They have arrows where you can stand during lunch. [Bench coach] Rob Thomson is doing a great job of separating the groups and keeping them small. I told the coaches, ‘I don’t know how you did this last year.’ They said, ‘It’s so different, especially when you go on the road. You’re almost like a prisoner.’ "
As unfamiliar as the routine is, Bowa is thrilled to be around the game he loves again after having to keep his distance last season.
“It was tough,” he said. “It was like something was missing from my life. You get into a routine where as soon as Christmas is over you start thinking about spring training and when that’s over you get ready for the games and when the team would go on the road I’d go down to the minor leagues and watch and work with the kids. It’s a cycle and to have that gone was a big hole.”
He filled that hole by working out with his wife Patti.
“We hit some golf balls at the driving range, we went for long walks, and we cleaned closets, and we cleaned the garage,” Bowa said. “My house and the drawers in my house have never been cleaner.”
Bowa was not particularly enamored with the brand of baseball played last season either. He understood some rules had to be changed – the runner at second base in extra innings and seven-inning doubleheaders – but he still did not like it. He also hated baseball without fans and he said he has learned during the early days of this spring training that he was not alone.
“I felt like I was watching a ‘B’ game in spring training every time they played last season,” Bowa said. “It was like they were playing at 9 in the morning with no one around. I’ve talked to some guys down here and they really missed the fans. They have told me how much more it motivated them when they were in the middle of a game and a rally started because you could feel it in the entire ballpark.”
Bowa and former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who is 77 years old, are the only two guest instructors at spring training this year because of the pandemic and Girardi loves their presence.
“He reminds me of Larry Bowa when I watched him as a player,” Girardi said. “Hard-nosed, tough, and a lot of energy. He did whatever it took to win. When you watch Larry here, you see that all he cares about is winning and trying to help guys get better. Every day I walk in and I see Larry and Charlie sitting at their lockers and holding court. I absolutely love it. I sit down, I listen, and we have discussions.
“I’m really happy that both of them are here. They have so much knowledge, they have an understanding of what it’s like to manage, to play in Philadelphia, which I think is really important for the players to understand. When I’m here coming in, Charlie and Larry already have worked out, they have a lather going and they’re sitting talking baseball. It’s been really, really a pleasure for all of us to have them here. I look at Larry, his abs are still rock hard and he looks like he could still play today. He keeps himself in great shape. He can throw BP. There’s nothing he can’t do to help us.”
Bowa has not yet thrown batting practice in this year’s camp, but he likely will be asked to do so at some point. At 75, he’s ready.
“Let’s face it, I couldn’t have scripted my story any better,” he said. “I’ve been very blessed with my health and with the Phillies wanting me to still come down here. As long as I keep feeling the way I feel, I’ll keep coming down.”
It would be as strange as a COVID-19 season not to have him around.