To many sports fans today, the best-known student athlete to hail from Clemson University is Trevor Lawrence, the star quarterback who led the Tigers to the college football national title last year and may win another this year.
But in these parts, the Clemson athlete most familiar to many is Baltimore native Brian Kowitz, who recently was inducted into the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in recognition of his baseball career at the South Carolina college.
“It was surreal to be inducted,” said Kowitz, now 50. “You play college baseball and just hope to make the team. Then, you just want to prove you belong. I just worked my tail off and always prepared myself to be in the lineup.”
Kowitz, who lives in Owings Mills, is considered one of the greatest baseball players in the university’s history. He had a career .319 batting average at Clemson with 53 doubles, 11 triples and 124 RBIs from 1987-1990.
An outfielder from 1987-1990, Kowitz was named the 1990 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. That season, he batted .403 with 102 hits, 60 RBIs and 87 runs. He also had a team high of 22 doubles and 34 steals that season, to go along with a 37-game hitting streak.
Kowitz — who attended Jemicy School and Randallstown High School before graduating from Boys’ Latin in 1987 — soon caught the attention of Major League Baseball scouts. In 1990, he was a ninth-round selection of the Atlanta Braves.
He joined the Braves just as they began an historic run of success, which beginning in 1991 included 14 straight division titles, five World Series appearances and a world championship in 1995. Kowitz was called up on June 3, 1995, when outfielder David Justice was placed on the injured list.
Kowitz made his MLB debut the next day when he was used as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning in a game against the Houston Astros. He doubled down the leftfield line, but the Braves lost the game, 6-2.
Kowitz only appeared in nine other games for the Braves before being sent back to the Triple-A Richmond Braves.
“It wasn’t until I walked into the clubhouse with the [Atlanta] Braves and saw my name on the locker that everything sunk in for me,” he recalled. “My locker was right next to [first baseman] Fred McGriff. Then, the first person to greet me was [Hall of Fame pitcher] Greg Maddux. He even offered me the chance to stay at his house if I didn’t have a place to stay. That team was so special. There were future Hall of Famers all over the place like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones. There was a star at every position.”
Following the 1995 season, Kowitz signed with the Detroit Tigers. He played spring training with the team before being sent to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Kowitz was released in May 1996 and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He finished the season with Triple-A Syracuse Mets before retiring from professional baseball, in part due to injuries
As a player, Kowitz, who attends Pikesville’s Beth El Congregation, said he knew he was one of the few Jewish players on the field each night, but felt like the sport was a melting pot.
“Baseball unites communities,” he said. “In the clubhouse, there were Jewish players, whites, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian players and players from all types of faiths. Baseball was the common denominator for all of us.”
Today, Kowitz is a general partner at Heller Kowitz Insurance Advisors, a Lutherville-based insurance agency operating in the mid-Atlantic region. But baseball continues to play a major role in his life. A married father of three, Kowitz coached his son’s team and he remains a fan of the Orioles, even during this restructuring period.
“[Orioles general manager] Mike Elias and company have a plan,” Kowitz said. “They are rebuilding the entire organization and I think they will get there, but it will take time. They have so much information available today that wasn’t around when I was playing, thanks to analytics, and they would be crazy not to use it. It’s just different today. The game is evolving, and teams that hope to succeed need to evolve with it.”
Ron Snyder is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.