By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
Former Montreal Expos scout Kelvin Bowles passed away on Sunday at the age of 82 after a lengthy illness.
He died in his home in Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
Bowles was a versatile and respected scout for Jim Fanning and the Expos from 1985 to 1990. He was entrusted to scout collegians, international prospects, minor leaguers and major leaguers.
Left-hander Chris Nabholz, an Expos’ second-round pick in 1988, was one of the players Bowles scouted and signed. The hard-working Virginia native, who scouted for the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to joining the Expos, also provided valuable insight into Bucs’ prospects like Moises Alou, Willie Greene and Bill Sampen that the Expos later acquired.
“The baseball world lost someone special on Sunday morning,” said Allen Lawrence, general manager of the Salem Red Sox, the class-A team that Bowles once owned, in a statement.
Born in the Snow Creek area of Franklin County, Va., in 1939, Bowles joined the U.S. Air Force for four years after high school. Upon returning to civilian life, he transformed himself into a savvy businessperson, establishing a cable company that once served over 20 communities in his home state.
His true passion, however, was baseball, and the profitability of his business permitted him to pursue a side-career as a scout. He had played the sport as a youngster, but never above the amateur ranks, but he watched the game religiously and followed local players closely.
He started as a scout with the Major League Scouting Bureau before moving on to the Pirates and the Expos. From approximately 1975 to 1990, he also ran clinics and tryout camps in Virginia and surrounding states.
By 1985, he was based in Salem, Va., and when the local class-A club, a Pirates’ affiliate called the Salem Buccaneers, came up for sale with the owners threatening to move them, Bowles expressed an interest in buying them. He had the money. The only issue was that he worked for the Expos and this was a Pirates’ farm team.
“I knew a couple of people who were interested in buying the team, but they couldn’t put the deal together,” Bowles told Salem Magazine for their spring 2014 issue. “I asked my boss in Montreal if it would be a conflict. He called me back and said, ‘Go for it.’ Two weeks later, the deal was done.”
Bowles paid $175,000 for the club in December 1985. He was a hands-off owner who brought stability to the team. He maintained his ownership stake until 2006.
In August 1990, the Expos leaned heavily on Bowles when they traded left-handed starter Zane Smith to the Pirates. Relying largely on Bowles’ advice, the Expos landed three solid prospects in the deal: Willie Greene, Scott Ruskin and Moises Alou.
Bowles also later recommended that the Expos take a flyer on right-hander Bill Sampen, a Pirates’ 12th round pick, in the 1989 Rule 5 draft. The Expos did and Sampen rewarded them with a team-best 12 wins and a 2.99 ERA in 59 games in 1990.
By this time, however, Bowles was juggling his scouting duties with his cable company and his ownership of the Salem team. It was a lot to handle and he wanted to spend more time with his family and friends, so in December 1990, he tendered his resignation to the Expos.
Back in Virginia, he lent his business savvy to many local organizations, including being a founding member of the board of directors of the Franklin Community Bank and serving on the Franklin County Economic and Development Commission.
But he couldn’t stay away from baseball for long and he returned to scout part-time for the Florida Marlins and received a 1997 World Series ring for his work. He would also later evaluate talent for the Boston Red Sox.
For his efforts, he was inducted into the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.
“Kelvin was a great leader to our team and integral part of the community,” said Salem Red Sox general manager Allen Lawrence in a statement. “There was no bigger baseball fan than Kelvin. I am not sure I will ever meet anyone with more baseball stories than he had. Fortunately, for all of us, he loved to share them!”
Lawrence also recalled Bowles’ passion for winning and his gregarious nature with the fans.
“I will forever be grateful to Kelvin for the things he did for me and for keeping our team pointed in the right direction,” said Lawrence. “Kelvin was Salem baseball. He will be missed.”
Bowles is survived by his wife Jane, son Brian and daughter-in-law Michelle and his grandsons Korey and Logan.
A funeral service will be held on Saturday morning. For more details, click here.