When you think about past San Diego Padres players, the name Eric Owens probably doesn’t come to your mind. He wasn’t the flashiest of players, but Owens played the game hard and was often over shadowing players on the field with his all out hustle. Eric Owens was a gritty ballplayer in every sense of the word. Not blessed with the greatest of skill, but his heart carried him to a decent Major League career.
Originally a fourth round pick by the Cincinnati Reds in the June 1992 draft, Owens spent three years in the Minor Leagues before making his debut with the Reds in 1995. He spent the next few years up and down with the team only totaling 264 at bats in three years with the club. He amassed a .220 averaged and 19 stolen bases for the Reds in his three-year tenure.
In March of 1998 the Florida Marlins acquired Owens from the Reds and in less than a week later he was sold to the Milwaukee Brewers. His third organization in a seven-day span. Owens struggled mightily as a Brewer hitting .125 in 4o at bats for the Major League team. He did manage to hit .335 in 254 at bats with the AAA Brewers team.
In December of 1998 as the Padres quietly dismantled their National League Championship team, Eric Owens was signed to a minor league contract. The Brewers had given up on the outfielder and at the age of 28. With that Owens seems to have one last chance to stick in the Major Leagues.
With a strong performance in spring training, Owens made the open day roster for the Padres Major League team. He played the full season in San Diego hitting .266 with nine home runs and 61 RBI’s. He also finished with 22 doubles and 33 stolen bases on the year. Owens was actually hitting .295 in August, but a late season slump dropped his average to .266 on the season.
Eric Owens had several game winning hits for the Padres that year. On June 5th, Owens 10th inning single off Jose Mesa and the Seattle Mariners won the game for the Friars. Three days later he singled in two runs in the eighth inning as the Padres beat the Oakland Athletics 5-3. He was a very clutch hitter for the team that was looking for a new set of stars. The team had lost Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti from their 1998 squad and searched for a new identity.
Owens in 1999 stole 33 bases. He along with Reggie Sanders, Damian Jackson, and Quilvio Veras each stole over 30 bases. It was the first time in Padres history that four players had 30 plus stolen bases on the season. The team looked to add speed to its offensive weapons, and it was an exciting Padres team to watch on the base paths. Owens stole home on May 21, 1999 against Brett Tomko and the Reds, and plays like that endeared Owens to the fans of the Padres. He sure was an exciting player to watch play the game of baseball.
The 2000 season was Owens best season in the Major Leagues. He hit .293, scored 87 runs and drove in 51 runs while hitting six home runs. He also stole 29 bases and reached safely in his first 27 games of the season (from April 3rd thru May 5th). Injuries to Tony Gwynn led to more playing time for Owens and he took advantage of it by playing his heart out.
In March of 2001 the Padres dealt Owens and Matt Clement to the Florida Marlins for Mark Kotsay and Cesar Crespo. A surprising move at the time, as Clement was viewed as the Padres ace of the future. Owens was a decent player but the Padres coveted a solid center field. Losing Finley was rough on the team and the Padres need for a center fielder led to the trade. Owens was viewed expendable by the Padres organization.
Owens went on to play two years for the Marlins and then played one year for the Angels. He never really had the success he had in a Padres uniform, but still had some decent numbers his last three years in the Majors. He retired with a .264 career batting average and a .318 on base percentage. He played nine seasons in the Major Leagues and totaled 2,353 at bats.
After Owens playing career was over, he immediately starting coaching. He served as the Angels minor league hitting instructor in 2006 and even managed the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes for some time. Currently Owens is an assistant hitting coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. He works with some of the best hitters in the Major Leagues right now. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Josh Donaldson are some of the names he works with on a daily basis.
Eric Owens will always be remembered for his hustle and his propensity to get dirty on the field. He played multiple positions and always gave it 100 percent. I have always had respect for players that relied on hustle and hard work. Owens made himself into a very good ball player and never took anything for granted. Much praise and love for Eric Owens, he played the game the right way. Players in this modern time need to recognize players like this and how important they are for the game. Anyone can succeed in the game of Major League Baseball as long as they give it all they have.