Boys' Latin hits big time with Kowitz

June 15, 1995|By BILL TANTON

The druggist, who always knows what's going on in sports, asked the question:

"Have you heard about the Boys' Latin kid who's playing baseball in the major leagues?"

"Impossible!" snapped one of the druggist's companions. "A kid from Boys' Latin School? Playing on a major-league team? No way."

Asked a third person: "Does Boys' Latin even have a baseball team?"

Yes, Boys' Latin does have a baseball team, and on the south side of Lake Avenue, behind the lower school, it has a nice little ballpark, named for the late Joe Iglehart, a onetime part-owner of the Orioles and Yankees. But turn out a big-league ballplayer?

Hey, Baltimore knows Boys' Latin. The school has been educating boys here since 1848. But it's known for lacrosse -- not for baseball.

In fact, the first mention of a BL kid playing in the big leagues conjured up a vision of one of Bob Shriver's lacrosse players deciding to take a crack at baseball and -- presto! -- there he is in the majors.

The druggist was right, of course. BL does have a young graduate playing in the big leagues.

His name is Brian Kowitz, Class of '87, and he's a left-handed hitting outfielder with the Atlanta Braves. But by no means did he walk off Boys' Latin's campus, diploma fresh in hand, and join a major-league club.

Kowitz, 25, got there the way all of them get there -- by playing baseball for years and years and striving constantly to learn and improve.

"It's a game of repetition," Kowitz said.

Kowitz, who lives in Owings Mills, started Little League at age 7. He played four years on the varsity at Boys' Latin (and "never made an error," says his coach there, Jack Blinke).

He played summers for Johnny's under the venerable Walter Youse.

He went to Clemson and was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1990, when he had a 37-game hitting streak and batted .403, second in the nation.

He signed with the Braves in 1990 and has put in five years in the minors. Greenville. Durham. Last year Richmond, where he hit .300 for the Braves' Triple-A club.

Last fall he was taken in the Rule V draft by Minnesota.

During this year's abbreviated spring training, Kowitz pulled a hamstring. The Twins felt they didn't have time to look at him. They returned him to the Braves, who sent him back to Richmond. On June 3, Kowitz was called up by the major-league club.

"Isn't that something?" Brian said. "I can't make the Twins but I can make this club."

Atlanta is one of the best teams in the majors. Minnesota is generally regarded as the worst.

"Getting here hasn't been easy," Kowitz said yesterday from his hotel room in Montreal, where the Braves are playing the Expos. "It's been a lot of hard work.

"That's the whole thing -- I found a good routine and added to it. Stretching. Lifting. Running. I never leave the routine. You have to keep working at this."

That's why, when he was called up and manager Bobby Cox put him in the leadoff spot, Kowitz was ready.

"Bobby had me in there five days in a row," he says. "We won four of those games. Everybody was calling me their lucky charm."

Against the Astros' he was asked to execute a suicide squeeze. It was perfect. The players told him it was the first time anybody on the club had done that in years. Bobby Cox loved it.

Brian's first major-league hit came against Houston's Shane Reynolds. Kowitz drove the ball past third base, down the line.

"It was an incredible feeling," Kowitz said. "I felt I'd finally arrived, that it was worth all the hard work."

Kowitz's first major-league road trip -- the one he's on now -- started in a manner almost as incredible.

"The plane was going down the runway," Kowitz. "and I was talking with Ryan Klesko and Mike Mordecai and all of a sudden there was smoke under the seats.

"At first I thought somebody was getting a hot foot, but the smoke smelled awful and people started hollering to stop, the plane was on fire.

"They stopped it and we had to slide down the slide to get out. My first big-league road trip. Somebody said to me, 'They're all like this, Brian.' "

Back at Boys' Latin, there's great pride that Kowitz is in The Show.

"I always thought he could do it," says Blinke, who has been a history teacher at the school for 21 years. "Brian has great determination and desire. He always wanted to learn everything he could about the game."

"Brian played football, basketball and baseball here," said High Gelston, the athletic director and basketball coach. "He was All-Metro [honorable mention] twice in baseball. In '87 we beat Gilman at Loyola College for the MSA B Conference basketball championship and Brian scored the winning basket with four seconds to play."

Kowitz is in the big leagues while his fiancee, Pikesville High grad Amy Schwartz, is finishing the work toward her M.A. in special education at Maryland, and the couple plans to marry January 1 -- which should not be a struggle financially with him earning the major-league minimum $109,000.

It's all coming together now, thanks to a lot of hard work.

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