Senior and captain Tommy Dowdle took the mound for his first varsity start in Loyola’s last home game of the season.
The right-handed Dowdle threw 89 pitches in the complete game, surrendering seven singles and one walk while striking out two in a 1-0 loss to Palatine on an unseasonably cool day May 20. As good as his performance was — the only seven-inning complete game of the season for the Ramblers — there was nothing extraordinary about it, unless you know Dowdle’s backstory.
Nearly one year ago to that day, Dowdle was in uniform when the Ramblers hosted the Pirates. But he had a different role. A casualty of roster cuts, Dowdle served as a student assistant coach during his junior season.
Loyola head coach Nick Bridich extended the offer to Dowdle, hoping the popular player would consider the unusual and unprecedented proposal. The decision was difficult, to be sure. Ultimately, he ignored his ego and chose to take the non-playing position.
Expectedly, Dowdle contemplated the offer before accepting it. His initial reluctance receded and was replaced with excitement after receiving encouragement from several players. Patrick Murray (Class of 2018) was one of the first to reach out to him. According to Murray, successful teams need people like Dowdle around.
That turned out to be true as the Ramblers captured the Class 4A sectional championship, the program’s first since 2008 and second overall.
“It was a fun season, and I’m glad I was there,” Dowdle said. “I know I played a part.”
Nevertheless, Dowdle was determined to prove he belonged on the team as a player. He told Bridich at a game last year that was his goal, and Dowdle made it his mission to do whatever was necessary to earn a spot on the roster as a senior.
“I wanted to be with the team again, and I deserved to give myself a chance to make it as a player,” he said.
Rick Dowdle, Tommy’s father and a Loyola graduate, remembered days last year when the youngest of his six children left the house with a bucket of baseballs. Curious, Rick (Class of 1980) followed his son in search of an explanation. He found Tommy at a local park throwing baseballs by himself.
Unaware of the solo sessions, Bridich noticed an improvement in Tommy’s game during summer workouts and penciled him in for a spot on the pitching staff the following spring. Dowdle made his varsity debut in Loyola’s season opener March 16 against St. Patrick, striking out one in one inning of scoreless relief.
“Something that stands out about him is his competitiveness and willingness to lead, no matter the circumstances,” Bridich said. “There are unbelievably talented professional athletes who don’t have those qualities. We are really proud of what he’s done, and it fills up my heart. He reminds me of why I do this.”
Dowdle’s teammates were equally impressed and enthusiastic about his journey, so much so they voted him a captain, along with seniors Patrick Neenan and Jake Novak. Although Dowdle shies away from calling himself a leader, those who know him do it without pausing.
Loyola sophomore baseball head coach Chris Ackels could see those qualities when Dowdle was a freshman.
“He’s relentlessly positive,” Ackels said. “Not all of your leaders are stud athletes. Tommy has talent and a great work ethic, but he’s a favorite because he does things the right way.”
Dowdle stood out off the baseball diamond, too. He was a member of the National Honor Society and a leader of Kairos, a Loyola spiritual retreat. He also ran a Facebook page that organized themes for students attending basketball, football and hockey games.
“He’s so well-respected by peers on the field, in the classroom and in the building,” said Ackels, who’s a teacher in the English department. “His impact goes far beyond a box score.”
Not one to promote himself, Dowdle said he’s surprised with the road he traveled. He pitched 13 1/3 innings in seven appearances, including one start.
“If you told me freshman year that I would be a captain, I would have called you crazy,” he said. “But it’s an awesome feeling and extremely rewarding.”
A resident of Glenview and product of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Dowdle is a Loyola legacy. His grandfather, John Dowdle, is a member of the Class of 1941, and his dad is one of seven brothers to graduate from the school. That was among the reasons why it was difficult for Bridich to leave Tommy off of the varsity roster last season.
“Here’s a kid who loves Loyola and loves Loyola baseball,” Bridich said.
Rick said he supported his son unconditionally when he accepted a non-playing role. Still, he asked Tommy why he made that choice.
“He told me he wanted to be around his buddies,” Rick said. “I know it was a tough thing for him to deal with, but he certainly responded to it in the best way and look what happened.
“Sometimes, kids teach us a lot.”
Photo credit: Margo Grogan/Sports Depiction