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Styling on the diamond

Unassuming Bill Rowe has been a hit for the Southern Oregon RiverDogs this summer

Bill Rowe may not be a model, but he's certainly in fashion these days on the baseball diamond.

As the trend for today's sports-minded individuals puts its emphasis on throwback jerseys celebrating the careers of Joe Namath, Wes Unseld, et al., it only seems natural that Rowe has moved to the forefront as one of the Rogue Valley's brightest up-and-coming talents.

It's a fitting correlation considering the 19-year-old is a throwback in his own right.

— His left-handed swing is one you'd expect to see televised in flickering black-and-white as one of the blurry images begging for play-by-play from one of radio's legends.

He hits for power, and for average.

He stands a sturdy 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, but doesn't resemble the kind of new-age bodybuilder physique.

Lightning on the basepaths, he's not. But the first baseman can leg out a double with the best of them, and there's nothing wrong with his home-run trot.

And as an unassuming leader, Rowe is the kind of laid-back baseball player who works hard but makes it look as if the game comes natural to him.

He's just so consistent and stable, says Southern Oregon RiverDogs manager Mike Mayben. He's relaxed at the plate and just does the job every night.

Rowe entered the RiverDogs' current two-day road trip against the Bend Elks (18-12) hitting a team-best .490 with 14 runs (second to Steve DeClerck's 19) and a team-high 16 RBIs.

All of this is coming off a freshman campaign at the University of California-Santa Barbara in which Rowe hit .285 with 16 runs and 16 RBIs in 39 games for the Division I Gauchos (25-28). His three homers put Rowe among the team leaders, trailing Chad Ziemendorf's six in 52 games.

So it makes sense that, after seeing the likes of Cal-State Fullerton and such esteemed programs over the school season, there's little that fazes Rowe about his summer tour with the RiverDogs (13-8).

There was just so much pressure in school ball this year and trying to prove myself, says Rowe, who revels in the fact that he also played left field on occasion for the Gauchos. Now, playing with guys I know and without all the people and pressure all around, I'm able to just go up there really relaxed and I don't try to push too hard.

Whatever the force exerted, mental and physical, Rowe seems to have found the right combination.

He went 6-for-10 with seven RBIs in his last two games for the RiverDogs, a doubleheader split with San Francisco on June 28. He also entered Friday's contest having notched a hit in each of his 13 games with Southern Oregon.

I'm having a great time and I love being home, says Rowe, who turned down a spot to play in Pittsburgh's Great Lakes League so he could be closer to his Ashland home and younger brother Jackson. Anytime I get a chance to hang around (Jackson), I love doing that.

That same sense of family led Rowe to play on the Ashland Pilots American Legion A team last summer instead of facing potentially stiffer competition on the AAA circuit with Klamath Falls.

As one of the oldest and most feared Pilots, Rowe spent most of the summer either walking to first base or trotting around the bases following a home run.

He's been forced to kick it into a higher gear on the basepaths thus far this summer, but his on-base percentage hasn't really suffered.

He swings a wooden bat just like most guys swing a metal bat, says Mayben, adding that Rowe's consistent approach at the plate makes his job that much easier.

With Bill up there, you don't have to do a whole lot. You can just stand back and watch. You know he's going to get a base hit at the least and make sure he does the job.

It's a trait that goes back to Rowe's days at Ashland High.

In his first varsity game as a freshman, he belted an offering by then-Crater standout Brent Foster over the fence for a game-winning grand slam against the third-ranked Comets.

He didn't know it was me until I reminded him about it, Rowe chimes in regarding his current RiverDog teammate.

As a sophomore in 2000, Rowe smacked a game-winning two-run homer to beat North Medford, which went on to finish as runner-up in the Class 4A state championship to Foster's Comets.

He was a pivotal fixture at first base and in the cleanup spot as Ashland earned its first two Southern Oregon Conference titles in school history in 2001 and '02.

And if his start at UCSB and with the RiverDogs is any sort of a foreteller, the best appears yet to come.

You like having someone like him around, says Mayben. With him, it's just about baseball.

And that's a trait that never goes out of style.

Southern Oregon RiverDogs first baseman Bill Rowe carries a big bat into games this season. The former Ashland High star leads the team with a .490 average and 16 RBIs and has notched a hit in each of his 13 games with Southern Oregon. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli