Joe Borowski has been a professional baseball player ever since he graduated from Marist High School in 1988.
The road to riches in professional baseball has taken Borowski to the minor league systems of the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves, given him chances to pitch in the majors with the Braves, the Yankees and the Chicago Cubs, but also brought him to exciting ports of call like the Mexican League and the independent Atlantic League with the Newark Bears.
Through all that time, Borowski never had a sense of contract security, playing year to year, team to team, contract to contract.
The Chicago Cubs, which utilized Borowski as their primary closer last season during their drive to the National League Central Division title and a berth in the NL Championship Series, rewarded the local product for a job well done by giving him a two-year contract worth $4 million.
Borowski had a breakthrough season in 2003, collecting 33 saves in 37 attempts. It was his second straight solid season coming out of the Cubs’ bullpen.
Needless to say, the Cubs’ top relief pitcher received a sigh of relief with the two-year deal.
“The relief part is definite,” said Borowski, who was honored Sunday at the New Jersey Sportswriters’ Association’s annual awards banquet at the Pines Manor in Edison. “Now, my family will be fine. We have some security. Not that I didn’t think there was a chance I wouldn’t get a contract over what I’ve done the last two years, but I just concentrated on what I could control. I told myself that I wasn’t putting added pressure on myself, but this is definitely a relief.”
Now, Borowski and his wife, Tatum, can build a home in Bayonne, where they plan to remain during the off-seasons while he is not in the major leagues.
“The Cubs went out and did something they didn’t have to do,” Borowski said. “They didn’t have to give me two years, but I think that was a sign of faith in me. Now, I have to go out and prove that they were right. It’s going to make me work harder. People might think that I might slack off because I have a two-year deal, but it’s only going to make me work harder.”
Borowski said that there are probably still some doubters who wonder whether what he produced last season was just a mirage.
“I wouldn’t doubt that people say last year was a fluke,” Borowski said. “A lot of people thought 2002 was a fluke as well. It’s always something with me, so who knows? Hopefully, if I do it for six, seven more years, the questions will stop.”
Borowski said that he never has taken the time to truly enjoy the dream season he had in 2003, when he emerged from the pack of Cub relievers to become the team’s closer.
“I don’t think it ever really sunk in,” Borowski said. “When it was all over, when everything was said and done, it really was a great year. But maybe I’ve been too focused or something to truly enjoy it. I will never be satisfied with what happened. We were in a pennant race and we just had to keep going out there and winning. Sure, I was pleased, but there is room for improvement.”
Borowski said that he enjoys playing in Chicago, where he has almost reached a cult hero status.
“It is a lot of fun and the fans are great,” Borowski said. “I keep getting great fan mail from people, like a police organization in Chicago that sent me a T-shirt with a cop carrying a lunch pail. They called me the ‘Lunch Pail Pitcher,’ and put my name on the back. They all treat me pretty well.”
Borowski said that he really appreciated the chance to be on the mound for the final outs against the Braves in the National League Division Series, to nail down the series against the team that unceremoniously released him a few years earlier.
“Sure, I was definitely pumped to pitch against them and to be able to get the last out,” Borowski said. “You always find reasons to want to do well against the teams that wrote me off and thought I was done. It was very gratifying.”
While Borowski is enjoying his time back in his native Hudson County, he is also eager to get back to spring training. He knows he doesn’t have to fight for a roster spot like he did in 2002. He knows he goes to spring as the Cubs’ closer.
“That’s the good thing,” Borowski said. “In past years, I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I know where I stand. We’ve made some good moves in the off-season and I think we can come out of the gate strong. We know what we can do.”
As long as Steve Bartman isn’t around to try to catch a foul ball in the stands, then the Cubs will be contenders again. Joe Borowski will be a major part of that. After 14 years of one-shot deals and wondering where the next check would come, Borowski finally has a home in Chicago – as well as Hudson County.