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02/23/12 5:02 PM EST

Lowrie's passion illuminates trip of a lifetime

Astros shortstop shares spectacular photos of African safari

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Jed Lowrie kept a knife within close reach and an air horn at his side, just in case. He had been warned that life in the east African desert can be dangerous and knew he had to be prepared if a lion or some other ferocious animal happened to make its way upon his encampment.

The idea of a close encounter with some of nature's most fascinating creatures and the opportunity to spend some time in their environment certainly came with its share of treachery. But luckily, on this winter night, in the depths of the Serengeti, the only thing Lowrie had to worry about were a few curious hyenas that were sniffing around his tent.

"The only time that I felt scared was the first night in the Serengeti," said Lowrie, the Astros' new starting shortstop. "We were out there, underneath a big canvas tent. Right before we went to sleep our guide brought us to the tent, showed us around and gave us an air horn and said, 'Blow this if there's a lion in your tent.'"

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Lowrie grew to appreciate nature, and a developing passion for photography prompted him and his new bride, Milessa Muchmore-Lowrie, to take a two-week African safari honeymoon to Tanzania following their marriage last November.

The memories of both the wedding and the voyage into the unknowns of the wilderness -- Lowrie and his wife had to take a pair of 9 1/2-hour flights to reach Tanzania -- will last a lifetime in their minds and forever in the vivid images of the more than 7,000 photos Lowrie snapped while on the trip.

"It was just an amazing opportunity," he said. "If you were to ask any serious or semi-serious photographer, one of their dreams would be to go to Africa and shoot a safari. The raw footage, the raw data you get in a place like that is just absolutely incredible.

"Animals you don't see anywhere else but in a zoo in the states, man-killing animals, are out in the wild living their lives, and you're just a part of it. It's an experience that is hard to describe, but one that everybody should experience."

Lowrie is currently embarking on another adventure in his first year of Spring Training with the Astros, who traded pitcher Mark Melancon to the Red Sox in December in exchange for Lowrie and right-hander Kyle Weiland. Before he cut ties with the Red Sox, Lowrie was able to broker a deal through the team's relationship with Nikon to borrow a camera worth $5,800 to take with him on the trip.

The images Lowrie snapped are stunning. An elephant grazes in front of a big horizon. A giraffe reaches up to eat a few leaves off a high tree. A mother cheetah looks up protectively over her young. Lowrie has added titles for most of his images and has two photos he considers his favorites.

"They're both lions," he said. "One is a male lion, and I entitled that 'King.' A lot of people tell me it looks like a scene out of 'The Lion King.' He's sitting on top of a rock formation and looking out over the Serengeti. It's a very regal-looking shot.

"The other one is titled, 'You Never Know Who's Watching.' At first glance -- and this is giving away some of the secrets to it and the mystique -- it just looks like an open plain. If you really study it, there's actually something out there looking at you."

Lowrie and his wife, a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department who will soon be relocated to Mexico following a stint in Washington, D.C., are avid travelers. The couple knew they probably wouldn't get many chances to take an African safari when they were older and began a family, so they jumped at the chance to go on one for their honeymoon.

They traveled to different areas in the region, from the Ngorongoro Crater to the Loliondo village to the Tanzanian capital city of Dodoma. When in the Serengeti, they had to stay in their heavily fortified safari truck, though they did have breakfast on a rock formation one morning. That was only after it had been scouted to make sure there were no lions lurking.

"It was eye-opening. Everything about it," Lowrie said. "The culture was different, the food was different, but I tell you what -- we stayed at some really nice places, some mobile camps and some lodges, and I've never been treated better or been more welcomed in my life than I was in Tanzania."

Lowrie is so passionate about taking pictures he used photography as an elective to finish his degree in political science at Stanford University last year. He's even set up a website to display his images, and he eventually plans to sell prints of his work, but the web address won't go public until he's done tying up some loose ends.

"Photography is addictive and expensive," he said. "I come out here and compete on the baseball field, and it's my creative outlet."

Lowrie, 27, comes to the Astros after playing the last four seasons in Boston, where he was a career .252 hitter with 19 homers and 117 RBIs in 256 career games. A switch-hitter, his career has been hampered by injuries, but he's looking forward to starting anew in Houston.

No matter what the future holds, Lowrie plans to keep photography as a hobby -- a hobby he approaches with as much passion and vigor as his baseball career.

"That's the beauty of it right now," he said. "It doesn't have to be viable for me. ... It's a hobby, something I want to share, and I don't know if I would ever want to become a full professional photographer. But I know it will be a hobby for the rest of my life."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.