The former Saks High School standout and his Auburn teammates will hear from the NCAA Selection Committee today, and the word could be that he’s already played his last.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Bowen, a senior who splits time at catcher. “I’ve been playing this game for a long time, since I was 5, and now I’m almost 23. It’s bittersweet for sure.
“I don’t really want it to be over, but all good things have to come an end someday.”
If one senses a touch of perspective in that answer, it’s because Bowen is a big-picture guy. Lately, his big picture has won him recognition from the Southeastern Conference.
Before having his moments on the field in this past week’s SEC Tournament, Bowen was named to the SEC’s Community Service team for baseball.
The league office names a community service team for each sport, honoring one player from each member school. Bowen was that guy for Auburn in baseball, and he received the recognition for volunteer work in a myriad of areas.
He has volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Alabama,
He took a mission trip to Venezuela to do home repair and share the Gospel.
He volunteered with Carpenters for Christ to help build and repair homes.
He volunteered at Boykin Center in Auburn.
He visited with patients at the Bethany House Hospice Center in Auburn as well as patients at UAB Children’s Hospital.
Last year, he helped with tornado relief in Auburn and in Calhoun County. He worked in areas affected by the tornado of April 27 — areas close to his home, where people from his church saw their homes damaged.
It’s not the kind of thing that will win him a paying job behind the plate, but then his bigger picture is more about stepping up to the plate.
“There’s more to it than just being a baseball player,” said John Pawlowski, who became Auburn’s coach soon after Bowen signed with the Tigers. “He’s represented our program in a first-class matter every day that he’s been involved with Auburn.
“I’m really proud of him and what he stands for.”
Bowen’s volunteer work dates back to before his time at Auburn. He and other members of Westwood Baptist Church did the mission trip to Venezuela when he was in high school.
He called what he saw “eye-opening.”
“They have just many, many kids in these families just crammed into this one- and two-bedroom houses, and they have to walk so far for water,” he said. “It’s insane how much they don’t have down there and how much we take for granted up here.
“It was a very humbling experience, for sure.”
He said reward came in how receptive the Venezuelan families were, not just to the repair work on their homes but to the message.
“They saw the light in our faces, just saw how happy we were to be down there,” he said. “You could tell they just wanted to have what we had.”
His hospice visits involved a 1950s-era Auburn pitcher who was dying of cancer.
He was among players who helped when a tornado downed trees on the home of the Auburn baseball team’s academic advisor, and he did work in the Ohatchee area after an EF-4 storm devastated areas in northern Calhoun County last year.
Bowen has driven through the affected area recently.
“It was weird just seeing, even on 431, how much it’s still affected— trees laying down all around and stuff,” he said. “It’s humbling, as well, because it’s so close to my house and so close to my family.
“I didn’t really think about it then, as it was happening. Afterwards, I was just thankful we were able to be unscathed.”
As for baseball, his college career hinges on the NCAA Selection Committee. Auburn (31-28) is a bubble team, and the Tigers will learn today whether they get to play in a regional.
If Bowen’s college career ended in Hoover this past week, then it ended with a flourish. He appeared in all three of Auburn’s games and started the last two, his 20th and career-high 21st starts of the year.
Not known for his offense, he reached base twice, stole a base and scored a run.
A defensive specialist, he threw out two base runners attempting to steal.
His biggest moment came in the bottom of the ninth inning of Auburn’s lone victory. He made a key block on a Justin Bryant breaking ball in the dirt against Georgia, keeping the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Auburn won, 3-2.
Bowen has appeared in a career-high 37 games this season. He’s batting .265 (18-for-68) with six RBIs.
Bowen arrived at Auburn at a time when the Tigers were well stocked at his position.
He waited his turn behind Ryan Jenkins and Tony Caldwell, appearing in 51 games with 10 starts over his first three seasons.
“It’s been a blessing, for sure, to be able to come down here and play Division I SEC baseball, but these four years have flown by,” he said. “Obviously, I had higher hopes for playing time in my earlier years, but I had two really good catchers ahead of me.
“Right now, I’m getting to play a pretty good bit, so I can’t really be sad about it. I’m playing well, when I get my chances.”
He was All-Calhoun County all four years at Saks and Class 4A All-State as a senior, batting .476 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs.
His younger sister, Rebecca, was the starting catcher for Saks’ state-championship softball team this spring. Caleb attended the Wildcats’ semifinal victory over Geneva in Montgomery but had to return to Auburn before their title-clinching victory over Pisgah later that day.
Apparently, Bowen’s little sister doesn’t mind reminding him who’s a state champion in the family.
“I get that all the time, how we got put out in the third round and she goes all the way her senior year,” he said. “She’s got a leg up on me on that, but I’m really proud of her.
“That’s awesome. She’s a great girl, and she deserves everything she gets.”
Caleb Bowen said he’d gladly take any opportunity to further his playing career but acknowledges that his future in the game is most likely in coaching. He plans to enroll at Jacksonville State and get his master’s degree in education.
Wherever he winds up, chances are he’ll be seen in places other than a dugout. He said the decision to step up to the plate when others need help isn’t complicated.
“I enjoy helping others,” he said. “It’s worth it, to get out there and do what you can to help others. There are people less fortunate. They need help, and I’m able to help.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.