Tim McDowell knew what the big leagues were like at an early age. He played catch with his father, major league fireballer Sam McDowell, at Cleveland Stadium, in the view of seemingly endless seats and manicured grass.
With Sudden Sam, he went into the team's clubhouse, shaking hands with the great players of the time, watching those with pads and pens in hand, hearing comparisons of his father with Sandy Koufax.
The other day Tim McDowell sat on a bench up a short hill. He was resting his pitching arm between starts, looking down upon American University's baseball field, which was surrounded by a small crowd, a short outfield fence in front of parked cars and backstop shadowing home plate.
It wasn't the big leagues, he wasn't Sudden Sam with the fastball that recorded two 300-strikeout seasons, reporters weren't labeling him a future Hall of Famer. It mattered little, though. Tim McDowell is his own man.
"I try to pitch like I can pitch," he said.
Early in Tim McDowell's high school career, his father's shadow was all-encompassing. The newspaper stories were about Sam McDowell's son: how Sam McDowell's son pitched for Gateway High in Monroeville, Pa., how Sam McDowell's son won yesterday. "They would go to write an article," McDowell said, "and, say it was a four-paragraph article, they'd write three paragraphs on my dad -- all his records and stats.
"But then toward the end of high school a lot of the articles were because of how I was doing. It got toward the end that I was getting three paragraphs and my dad was just getting a sentence."
He chuckled: "I would tease my dad about that."
While Tim McDowell joked about it, Sam McDowell was concerned the comparisons would diminish his son's confidence. "He handled it far better than I did," said Sam McDowell, third on the all-time list in strikeouts per nine innings (8.86). "People weren't giving him his due. He wasn't born a natural athlete. He's had to work for it. But they wouldn't give him his due because he was the son of Sam McDowell."
In more ways than one, Sam McDowell, 43, an admitted alcoholic and now the Texas Rangers' drug and alcoholism counselor and director of its employe assistance program, has influenced his son's life. When it would have been easy to put pressure on Tim to aspire to his level, he told him not to count on it. When Sam had a drinking problem during his playing days, he remained a family man, even after divorcing his wife when Tim was a teen-ager.
"Some people knew about his drinking ," said Tim McDowell, a junior who is majoring in psychology at American. "But I was never really ashamed of him, even when he was drinking . . . . I had a good family life. It was one of those things.
"I'm proud of him. Real proud. You know, it's hard to kick something like that. Not only did he kick it and turn it around, he's helping others. He loves his job and it makes me happy. I love to see him happy like that."
"We had a very good family life," said Sam McDowell. "We were close."
This season, Sam McDowell, the former 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander who pitched his first 11 seasons with the Cleveland Indians (1961-71), is very much a part of the life of Tim McDowell, the 6-3, 185-pound right-hander. Taking advice from his father last summer and during phone conversations after every game he has pitched this season, his earned run average has dropped noticeably.
With his father's name attached to him, Tim McDowell's first two seasons at American were frustrating. After making all-state in high school, he had an 8.41 ERA his freshman year and 9.46 last year.
"I think he just wasn't a pitcher at that caliber of play," said Sam McDowell. "You have a 17-year-old kid throwing against college seniors."
Last summer, Sam McDowell, who had always helped his son mentally prepare for pitching, studied the pitching motion.
"When I was growing up," said Tim McDowell, "he didn't favor me or anything. If I pitched a good ball game, he would let me know about it. We'd talk about what was wrong. He wouldn't say: 'Ah, you pitched a good game, just got a couple of bad breaks.' He would let me know and we would deal with it.
"My windup got a little messed up last year. My dad came down and brought some video film. He knew right away that I was throwing wrong. So he worked with me on coiling a little bit more on my windup, getting my arm to drop all the way down instead of short-arming it. All of a sudden my curveball was snappin' off and I had a lot more on my fastball. Everything felt smoother."
Although he still isn't the overpowering pitcher his father was, his ERA is down to 3.58 this season. In a recent game against George Mason, one of the better teams in the area, he didn't strike out a batter in a 1-0 loss. But he didn't walk anyone, either, and allowed only three hits. It was a perfect example of Tim McDowell being his own man, and being successful.
He has turned to mind over matter, placing his pitches instead of trying to throw past the hitters the way his father could. His objective is to concentrate on every pitch, no matter what the score, the inning, or how many runners are on base. The result: no home runs this season, compared with 12 last year.
"What do you want to do with this pitch?" Tim McDowell explained. "Do you want a curveball? Where do you want it? If you can just narrow the game down to one pitch, it's an incredible difference. I'm at the point now, I can do that almost the whole game."
"Tim is not a dumb person," said American Coach Dee Frady. "He has had some past experiences that he has benefited from."
"I'd say he's just going through the normal maturing process," said Sam McDowell. "Perhaps the only thing that has held him back is his doggone growing. Some major league scouts feel he has a pretty bright future."
One major league scout, Joe Branzell of the Texas Rangers, thinks he has an outside chance. "He is definitely someone who you might want to see down the road sometime," Branzell said. "He doesn't have great talent, but someone will sign him . . . . When I saw him, he didn't have the blazer, but I'll tell ya, he had a good windup."
The other day, Tim McDowell reflected on pitching after college, squinting into the warm, bright sun and a soft breeze. It was weather made for daydreaming.
But Tim McDowell wasn't daydreaming; a professional pitching career for him seemed as real as the steps he was sitting on.
"I think about how my father didn't throw 98 miles per hour in high school, and it helps me realize that it will come in time," said Tim McDowell. "It helps me to see things more realistically. You know that it's not going to happen overnight. I don't think I've come this far or done this well because of my dad's name. That was me."