FRANCHUK: Good luck all around for Cowart, Owlz

2011-06-19T00:00:00Z 2011-06-22T07:28:58Z FRANCHUK: Good luck all around for Cowart, OwlzJason Franchuk Daily Herald Daily Herald
June 19, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Kaleb Cowart has fancy rims on his car wheels and speaks with a slight southern drawl. Not exactly like much of Utah County. But the $2 million baseball man also wears his religion proudly around his neck and is expected to show his love and affinity for baseball all around the UVU campus this summer, beginning tonight in the Orem Owlz’ season opener. Everyone appears to have lucked out in Cowart’s case. He signed to become a professional right before the deadline last year for a reported $2.3 million, considering himself fortunate as he’s worth a small fortune already at 19 years old.  Orem’s parent club, the Los Angeles Angels, feels like it has a “plus” player (a baseball farm-league term representing well beyond average) both for his on-field tools and off-field character. And, of course, local baseball fans should benefit by seeing Cowart play. Though who knows for how long, if success demands he advance accordingly from the 76-game Pioneer League schedule that will take Cowart and his cohorts to places like Casper, Wyo., and Missoula, Mont., from now until close to Labor Day. “That’s probably the toughest part, is just the grind,” Cowart said, while carefully adding he knows how lucky he is to be “playing a kid’s game.” Will it come like child’s play to him? Hard to say. Longtime minor league manager Tom Kotchman, he of the many wins and vibrant commentary, points out that there’s no status quo to the Angels’ plan of advancement. He can point to Howie Kendrick from nearly a decade ago as a 10th-round pick. There are 17th-rounders and those drafted much later who have made it all the way to the top of the sport. Baseball is one pro venue where “first round” doesn’t necessarily gauge predictably of success, especially compared to basketball and football. Cowart is part of a system that still often hands very young people a wild amount of money and expects them to grow up quick, physically, mentally and emotionally. Imagine being just out of high school and winning the lottery. How many of us would ascend as expected? Plus, there’s a special fortitude required to keep advancing in baseball. There are also plenty of teammates in that Orem dugout that are essentially making minimum wage. The dynamic is fascinating, just like elsewhere in the minors. Kotchman says, regarding Cowart, it is no big deal, which is as good of a sign as the level of play that led him to being named the Gatorade high school player of the year last spring in Georgia. Cowart eventually signed with the Angels, which allowed him to avoid college (he has it stipulated in his contract, like many high draft picks, that higher education will be paid for; though he’s too focused on starting his career, and earning the money he was handed, to be in class right now). Orem fans had a brief taste of his abilities last summer. Cowart appeared in one playoff game at Ogden, recording a home run, two hits and three RBI plus a pair of strikeouts. “He went right in there and wasn’t intimidated by any of it,” Kotchman marveled. “He just has to not put too much pressure on himself. Just go be what you are, and do what you do.” What Cowart will do is play the infield and be expected to hit a ton.  “Man, the ball flies out here. I love it,” Cowart says, having a good attitude about his summer home’s altitude. He is a stranger in a different land, a guy whose personal life includes one sister and a baseball life that has conjoined with a summer host family that raised 10 children. Strong Christianity is a big part of the bond. Kotchman says Cowart won’t be treated differently than any of the other Owlz. Well, there are two stipulations. You can bet he’ll get more chances to prove himself, the Angels trying to see the most of their investment. And every player has different things that make them tick and tock. Kotchman likes this first-rounder, which is saying something. The manager has an easy comparison to make whenever he sees one. His own son,Casey, was once valued that highly out of high school. Yes, go to Owlz games to see if any of these guys — Cowart included — can be stars. Or even comets, which is to say in a positive way that they may sparkle here but not be around for long.

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