Emily Bowlan inspires Royals’ brother, RHP Jonathan Staff

February 24, 2022 at 11:04 pm.

Keeping The Faith

by Bill Sorrell

Jonathan Bowlan, a pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization, has a special gift from God, his 27-year-old sister Emily Bowlan, who was born deaf and with Down’s Syndrome.

His college baseball coach at the University of Memphis, Daron Schoenrock, told him that when he played for the Tigers.

Emily is Jonathan’s biggest inspiration.

“Seeing throughout life what she cannot participate in really pushes me to try my best and play for her, my family and for the Lord,” said Bowlan, 25.

Emily, who always yells the loudest at games and has a hug and smile for Jonathan win or lose, continues to motivate him to reach the highest level in baseball. Bowlan is on the Royals’ 40-man roster.

Bowlan says that his faith has helped him become who he is.

“I got away from the man I wanted to be,” said Bowlan of struggles he had in college with temptations. “I thought I wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t live up to the Lord’s words.”

In 2019, he sat down with Georgia pastor Tim Cash, who has served as a chaplain in the Royals’ organization and is a special assistant to the Royals’ General Manager. They began praying together.

“I told him my struggles in the past. That was the day that I gave my soul to the Lord forever. That is how I got to where I am today,” said Bowlan.

Bowlan had grown up in a Christian home in a Memphis suburb and is a member of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. His family studied the Bible together.

“Jesus is the reason we are here today. He is the one who died on the cross and rose three days later to cleanse of our sins so we can live our lives without guilt,” said Bowlan.

His favorite Bible verses are Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Bowlan said these verses and prayer “allow you to live your life stress free and trust in God’s plan which is my motto. It’s been incredible. I am able to leave things in the past and focus on what I can control in the future.”

Bowlan tells teammates and others to take life one day at a time, trust in God’s plan and pray.

God’s purpose for Bowlan is to lead by example through His word, he said.

“It’s all through God. God put me in this place to be part of this world,” he said.

Bowlan wants to continue to take it day-by-day and “not overthink and think too far into the future living in the moment and trust in God’s plan always no matter what.”

Bowlan attends weekly baseball chapel services in the clubhouse. He follows spiritually-based accounts online and has a devotional group with friends in Memphis.

His parents, Mark and Connie Bowlan, have been spiritual influences on him as well as role models. His grandmother, Martha Lusk, has also been a spiritual influence along with his grandfather, Benny Hopper. His oldest sister Lauren Whipple and second oldest sister Rachel Taylor have encouraged him in his faith as did his former fiancé, Kylee Bright.

“I could go on and on the people who have shaped my life,” he said.

Bowlan wants to try to bring light to someone “because you never know what they go through. I want my teammates to say that I am a great teammate but an even better man outside of the game.”

He is approachable. He wants teammates to talk with him about anything they may be going through or something they may struggle to talk about and know that he is willing to help.

“I want to continue to support them through all the ups and downs and challenges. Positivity is the biggest thing I do for my teammates and support,” he said.

Teammates see it.

Kansas City Royals pitcher Jonathan Heasley was drafted with Bowlan in 2018. They were roommates when they played together at Idaho Falls and then they played together in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2019 and Northwest Arkansas in 2021.

Heasley said that watching Bowlan each day by the way he carries himself and cares for others is evidence of his faith.

“He is probably the nicest kid I know,” Heasley said. “He is so caring you can see that through his family, the love that he has for his sister. The best thing about Jonathan, he always has a smile on his face. He only brings positive energy and is someone players always want to be around. I would definitely say he is the fan favorite in the locker room among his peers. That positivity and encouragement he brings to the team every day. He does that by the example of his actions. You can tell they reflect his faith and reflect the Lord. That is the biggest thing when I think about when I think about Jon. You never really question whether he is a Christian or not by the way he lives every day.”

Heasley has been inspired by the way Bowlan has handled the Tommy John surgery on his right throwing arm. Bowlan’s surgery was June 2, 2021.

“Seeing how positive he has been knowing God has a bigger plan,” said Heasley, who has had conversations with Bowlan about the Lord being in control.

A pitcher at Oklahoma State who grew up in the Dallas area and now lives in McKinney, Texas, Heasley said that he was raised in a Christian home.

“I’ve obviously been through ups and downs in my life. Through it all Jesus has been my rock and guided me. I think it is very special to have the opportunity that both Jonathan and I do with this platform and be able to use that to glorify the Lord in whatever way it might be. Because at the end of the day we would not be here without Him. I think we are kind of in a similar boat in our relationship with the Lord. We have been able to feed off each other in our growth.”

Bowlan has grown as a pitcher. His father Mark Bowlans was also a starting pitcher for the University of Memphis. On May 3, 1987, he pitched the only perfect game in Memphis baseball history. He was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and pitched in Double A before an elbow injury ended his carrer.

Connie Bowlan played softball at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi.

Jonathan Bowlan was drafted in the second round, No. 58 overall, by Kansas City in June 2018. He was the highest Memphis player drafted since 1981.

His father taught him “everything, how to slow the game down, how to not show your emotions, how to compete to the best of my ability,” Jonathan said.

He pitched in high school his freshman through junior years at Arlington High School near Memphis. He was a freshman on the state championship team in 2012.

At Arlington, he had an embarrassing moment. He was pitching, caught the ball, then as he went backwards on the mound a shoelace caught his spike and he fell backwards on his butt in front of everybody.

In high school he was a 3-sport letterman. He transferred to Bartlett High School in metro Memphis his senior year. He was quarterback on the football team and named to the All-Shelby Metro team. He was also selected the Most Athletic Male Athlete in Shelby County for football in 2015.  He played in the Liberty Bowl All-Star High School football game that season.

A member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in high school, Bowlan was semifinalist for the John “Bull” Bramlett Award. A former football player at Memphis and four years in the pros, Bramlett’s award goes to a player who has shown exemplary character, integrity and on-field excellence.

Bowlan was also an all-star in baseball, earning a spot on the Private School vs. Public School All-Star Game and was an all-star in basketball. He also loves to play golf.

A pro highlight was when he pitched a no-hitter for the Wilmington, Delaware, Blue Rocks in 2019 where was in High A.

His fast ball has reached 99 mph and he has averaged 94-97 mph. His favorite pitch is the slider. He has played on a championship team three years, at Lexington, Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas.

Preparation is what guides him through competition.

“Preparation is what leads to success,” said Bowlan, who was an All-Star in the South Atlantic League for Lexington.

He was recruited to be part of the USA Olympic Qualifying Team but injured his arm three days before he was supposed to report.

Bowlan, who always prays before a game, said that he has had to put his trust in the Lord as he has played baseball, especially at the pro level.

Bowlan, who likes to joke with teammates, wants to improve in pitch movement.

“I have to continue to come out and give it my all,” he said. “Being a pro player is very stressful in many ways. Once you put your trust in the Lord it allows you to play and to enjoy the present and give it your all because that is all you can do.”

Whenever he has the opportunity to give his testimony, he will talk about how powerful prayer is.

Bowlan said that baseball and faith are related.

His goal spiritually is to continue to live through the Lord’s name, glorify the Lord in everything that he does and spread His Word.  His baseball goal is to continue to work hard and become the best baseball player he can be, become the best teammate he can and be the player that teammates can come to about anything they may be going through.

Bowlan, who wears a cross given to him by his father, wants to continue to memorize scripture.

He has given of his time, volunteering with Special Olympics in which his sister Emily participates. He has coached her basketball team.

“I try to support her,” he said.

He wants to minister to those he is around

“I am focusing on myself and what I can do for others. I am a very positive individual. I take a day at a time.”

Schoenrock said, “Jonathan is a follower of Christ,” Schoenrock said.  “His faith is an important part of making him who he is on and off the field. He will impact people for Christ by how he lives his life. Very seldom does someone with so much God-given talent remain so humble and so appreciative for all he has been given.”

Bowlan’s faith continues to challenge him and push him to become a better version of the man he wants to be.

“It’s never too late to become the man you want to be and to live in God’s name and glorify Him,” he said.