After five years in the Atlanta Braves' minor-league system, Brian Kowitz finally got his chance to appear in The Show. The 10-game ride included five starts, four of them victories, and a few key hits.
And when it was over, the little guy from Owings Mills had left a lasting impression.
"He's a heady player," said Rod Gilbreath, assistant director of player development. "A clutch player with great speed and a compact build, durable enough to play every night."
Triple-A Richmond Braves manager Grady Little said: "Brian's a competitor, the guy you want up there when the game's on the line. He's a general out there. Physically, he's not a big man [5 feet 10, 182 pounds], so he takes very good care of himself because he knows the rest of his game has got to be perfect. He knows everything else has to shine."
Back at Richmond, Kowitz, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, recalled staring into the bright lights of the big leagues with nary a blink.
"You're next to the guys you looked up to, guys who get cameras shoved in their faces every day. Thousands of people are watching you play. But I never pictured myself failing," said Kowitz, a 1987 Boys' Latin graduate.
"You can't afford to second-guess yourself in baseball because it's such a mental game. I always picture myself doing the job. Getting base hits and coming through."
Kowitz, who was sent back to the minors June 18, can't wait for his next opportunity -- one that may not be far away.
"He's come back a little more mature, and I think he's prepared to go back up. And based on his present capabilities, I'd say he's ready to go back today," Little said. "He's just got to get the right opportunity. And I'm sure he's going to get another chance. just don't know when."
When not on the road, Kowitz, 25, has been preparing for a December marriage to Pikesville graduate Amy Schwartz. Schwartz expects to earn her M.A. in special education from Johns Hopkins, said Kowitz, who is devoting much of the major-league-minimum $109,000 he earned toward their future.
"I play this game because I love it, but it takes on a new meaning when you consider buying a town home and possibly supporting a family," said Kowitz, who enjoys his best quality time with Schwartz during October, November and December.
"The ultimate goal is to get back to the big leagues. That's fantasy land. That keeps the fire going. I've gotten a taste of it, so now the fire's blazing."
Kowitz dreamed about the opportunity ever since he was a 7-year-old Little Leaguer. He improved his chances by playing four years of errorless ball on Boys' Latin's varsity, and by playing summer ball with Johnny's, coached by Walter Youse.
In his last of three years at Clemson, Kowitz 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. "My only regret is that we never made it to the national championship," said Kowitz, who signed with the Braves in 1990.
He worked his way to the top during his five years in the minors. He began with the Rookie-level Danville Braves and was named the Appalachian League's eighth-best prospect in a Baseball America poll.
He began 1991 with the Single-A Durham Bulls, then was promoted to the Double-A Greenville Braves, where he was errorless in 228 chances, ranked second on the club in triples and was third in steals.
Last year at Richmond, Kowitz led the team in runs (68), triples (seven) and steals (22), was second in hits (140) and doubles (29), and ranked among the top three in three other categories, including batting average (.300). He also erred just twice in 124 games.
"He's a knowledgeable player with great defensive abilities, and he always throws to the right base," Little said. "He's been around long enough that he does the little things necessary to be the leader. At times, he carries the load for the team."
Kowitz thought his hard work had paid off when he was taken last December in the Rule V draft by the Minnesota Twins. But during spring training, he pulled a hamstring. The Twins returned him to the Braves, and it was back to Richmond.
Or was it? Major-league center fielder Marquis Grissom went down to injury. Manager Bobby Cox needed a replacement and called up Kowitz on June 2.
"Being sent back to Richmond was a blow because I felt like I could have helped Minnesota, but being called up was incredible, the chance I always felt I'd be ready for," Kowitz said. "I'd rather be on the Braves than on the last-place Twins [in the American League Central], but I felt the Twins could have used a guy like me. It was an emotional roller coaster."
But Kowitz kept his emotions in check. And batting leadoff in a home game against the Houston Astros, he drove a first-pitch, run-scoring double off Shane Reynolds down the third base line.
"I watched it go out of the corner of my eyes," Kowitz said. "And after sliding into third base, I got up, dusted myself off and looked around at what seemed like a million people screaming for me."
Kowitz's first major-league hit didn't rescue his team from a 6-2 loss. But his next effort, a suicide squeeze, secured the final run in a 5-3 win.
"It was against a lefty from the Chicago Cubs with a man on third," Kowitz recalled. "I got the ball down, which doesn't happen too often. So, when the manager calls on you to do it, you know he's got a lot of confidence in you. A lot of the players said it was the first time anybody'd done it in years."
And Kowitz, sent down again when Grissom returned, can hardly wait to do it again.
"I know I can play up there," Kowitz said. "I feel like that's where I belong."
Name: Brian Kowitz
Team: Richmond Braves, Triple-A International League
Parent organization: Atlanta Braves
Schools: Boys' Latin, Clemson
Estimated arrival in majors: Activated for 10 games in 1995, could return any time.
Strengths: Hits with gap-type power and is especially dangerous on the bases. Solid defensive player, always in shape and rises to the occasion.
Working on: Improving his batting against major-league pitchers and improving his throwing arm, considered average for a major-leaguer.
STATISTICS Yr. Team .. HR RBIs Avg.
1990 Pulaski 8 19 .324
Greenville 0 4 .132
1991 Durham 3 21 .254
Greenville 3 17 .232
1992 Greenville 0 6 .286
Durham 7 64 .301
1993 Greenville 5 48 .278
Richmond 0 8 .267
1994 Richmond 8 57 .300