On July 4, ex-military man Chris Rowley takes the ball for the Bisons - The Buffalo News
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On July 4, ex-military man Chris Rowley takes the ball for the Bisons

There are a few Fourth of July celebrations Chris Rowley will never forget.

There was the one in 2015 when he returned home to Georgia after serving two years in the Army in Eastern Europe.

Two years later, he was making his first start at Triple-A, leading the Buffalo Bisons to a 6-2 win over the Syracuse Chiefs at Coca-Cola Field.

Rowley, who learned Sunday night he would be starting on Monday after the Toronto Blue Jays recalled Mike Bolsinger, picked up the win, giving up one run on three hits with two walks and six strike outs over five innings.

"That was pretty cool. I enjoyed that," Rowley said of his outing. "I've started for half my career so I have a decent amount of experience doing both. It probably would have been different if it was my first career start but I had a base of experience to take into today."

[Gallery: Bisons 6, Chiefs 2]

Rowley spent all four years at Army West Point as a starter. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, he made 43 starts going 25-9 with a 3.44 ERA for the Black Knights. He signed as an undrafted free agent out of college with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 then put his baseball career on hold for two years as he completed 30 months of active duty.

"The two years off really gave me a chance to recover," Rowley said. "I had a long career at Army. I threw a lot of innings and I didn't really throw much when I was gone. I never threw off the mound but I was able to play catch and stay relatively in shape. Then the Jays did a really great job bringing me back for instructional league in Fall of 2015 and spring training last year."

During that gap in his baseball resume, he was serving with the Bravo Company of the 2-7 Infantry, 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.

In March of 2015 he started a "non-combat deployment to Eastern Europe as part of a NATO joint effort to combat Russian aggression into Ukraine," Rowley explained on the Buffalo Bisons radio broadcast. "And our job was basically to have a presence in all the NATO countries that bordered Ukraine, just to show solidarity throughout NATO. And when I came back, it felt easy at the time, but you know looking back, I really was caught in a whirlwind, you know. So the longer I've been back, it's been easier to transition fully back into a baseball mindset and baseball life. I've really appreciated the opportunity and enjoyed my time."

Rowley had his first taste of pro ball before his deployment, playing  with the Gulf Coast Blue Jays in rookie league. He pitched in nine games, getting five starts, going 9-4 with a 2.67 earned run average.

After his two-year military hiatus, he returned to pro baseball in 2016, playing the entire season in with Class-A Dunedin. He pitched in 31 games making 14 starts and finishing with a 10-3 record and a 3.49 ERA.

Rowley began 2017 in Double-A New Hampshire making 17 appearances with two starts and a 1.73 ERA. That earned him a promotion to the Bisons and he made his Triple-A debut on June 19 at Rochester, giving up one run on six hits in 4 2/3 innings.

In Monday's win, he started the game with a pair of strike outs and gave up a hit before getting a ground out.

Then his team spotted a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

"Normally a big lead like that messes me up," Rowley said. "Because you want to pitch every pitch like a 0-0 game. But it also comes with a little bit of a maturity and experience so I guess having a little more experience up here, it didn't really affect me that much."

Overall he looked crisp and effective, giving up one run in the second when Neftali Soto doubled then eventually scored on a sacrifice fly to center from Jhonatan Solano.

"That's Lieutenant Chris Rowley," Bisons manager Bobby Meacham said with a smile after the game.

"It was great to see him go out there and attack the zone," Meacham said. "It didn't feel like he threw any balls out there. He was just down in the zone, got a lot of strikes."

The Bisons rotation continues to be in flux as the Blue Jays fill their needs with call-ups. But if Bolsinger stays with the Jays expect Rowley to be ready to take the ball again in five days. Or go back to the bullpen.

"Whatever they want me to do, I don't care," Rowley said.

"I think I threw the ball relatively well. I think I've been able to make some adjustments over the past three outings. I threw the ball better than I did in the first three outings up here. I'm just trying to adjust to this level and trying to get better every day."

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