Alumni update: Slugger Chris Nowak retires
It was a Tuesday in the third week of March when Chris Nowak got summoned to the office of Mike Bell, the director of player development for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Up to that point, Nowak had played in seven games at the D’Backs’ minor league camp at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Mike just said ‘I don’t know what to tell you, Chris,’” Nowak said. “That was almost clear enough for me to say ‘Yeah, I know.’ They never know what to tell you. It’s about money and it’s about their guys, too. I was gonna make more money than a lot of their five- or six-year guys. And they’d rather move up one of their guys and have them be successful than to take a chance on a 30-year-old guy who may or may not be any good.”
The Diamondbacks released Nowak on March 19. Many current and former Atlantic Leaguers have been through similar situations before, including Nowak, who revived his baseball career with the York Revolution the last two seasons following seven years in the minors with the Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers.
Nowak said he an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals to be the third baseman for the club’s Class AA Springfield team. Faced with what he describes as one of the most difficult decisions of his career, Nowak has instead opted to retire from the game after nine pro seasons. Many factors were at play, including the birth of he and his wife’s first child, a daughter named Estelle Marie, on Feb. 3.
“It’s super life-changing,” he said. “I could’ve done it (signed with St. Louis) and been away again for six-plus months and done the whole grind of trying to make it to the big leagues. It’s just something that I’d rather chase being a great dad instead of being a great baseball player.”
Plus, Nowak wanted a break after playing baseball for about a year straight, from a tryout to play in Japan to seeing action in the Mexican League to suiting up for the Revs to playing winter ball in Venezuela before finally going to spring training. And he also feels comfortable going out on top with positive memories of the game.
“I had two great seasons in York and I had all those great memories and great friendships,” he said. “That’s the reason for my success there is because I had so much fun. I’m happy about that. I have no regrets. I wanted to walk away from the game without the bitter taste in my mouth.”
Next step: A resident of Waukesha, Wisconsin, Nowak said he has plans to pursue a business degree through the University of Phoenix. He’s not sure exactly where that will lead.
“Right now it’s obviously not as clear of a picture of being a dad and being here as a family,” he said. “Obviously I want to get a solid job and make a career in that sense and put my efforts towards it like I have for baseball.”
Records: Nowak leaves the game holding many York Revolution records. He’s the franchise career leader in home runs (59), multi-home run games (seven) and slugging percentage (.600).
He’s the Revs’ single-season record holder in homers (34), homers at Sovereign Bank Stadium (21), multi-home run games (four), extra-base hits (63) and RBIs (107). He also owns the records for total homers at Sovereign Bank Stadium (31) and over the Arch Nemesis in left field (23).
2012: Nowak was one of seven Revolution players who brought in 2012 Atlantic League first- and second-team honors. He and second baseman Andres Perez were also selected to Baseball America’s All-Independent team. It marked the second straight year Nowak was selected to the all-indy team. Nowak had a club-record 34 homers (seven more than anyone else) while collecting 107 RBIs in 2012. It marks the league’s highest total in both categories since 2005. The slugger also batted .285 in 129 games played and finished second in the league in walks (71) and extra-base hits (63), and ranked third in on-base percentage (.391). That followed a 2011 season where Nowak batted .330 with 25 homers and 66 RBIs in 84 games for York.