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Two former Terps reunited on baseball’s biggest stage

Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Adam Kolarek recount facing off in the 2020 World Series.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Four Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It was Game Four, bottom of the eighth inning, when second baseman Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays stepped up to the plate after hitting a three-run homer earlier in the night. He found himself face-to-face with fellow Terp and former Rays teammate, Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Adam Kolarek.

Making history as the first at-bat between two Terps in the World Series, Kolarek struck out his old friend in just three pitches.

“I remember getting the first pitch of the at bat in. I’ve never faced AK before in my life,” Lowe said. “I just knew playing behind him the past few years he makes every lefty look horrible.”

The Dodgers went on to clinch the title in Game Six, making Kolarek the first Terp to win the World Series in more than 50 years since Ron Swoboda did it with the New York Mets in 1969.

Lowe and Kolarek never played together at Maryland as Kolarek was drafted by the Mets in 2010 and Lowe was drafted by the Rays in 2015. However, in 2018 when Lowe made his major league debut, Kolarek was also playing for the Rays. The duo were teammates in Tampa until July of 2019 when Kolarek was traded to Los Angeles.

The friends were reunited with each other Tuesday night alongside Maryland alumnus Tim Kurkjian for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism conversation about the 2020 Fall Classic. The duo spent time recounting their careers both at the professional and collegiate level.

Game Four was on Saturday, Oct. 24, which was also the day The New York Times headline read, “U.S. Sets Coronavirus Case Record Amid New Surge.” Despite the whirl of excitement that comes along with playing in the World Series, the players didn’t forget the reality of what was going on as they adjusted to a different kind of postseason.

“Instead of dumping a water cooler on somebody, you jumped from six feet away and throwing your hands in the air and bubble gum at them,” said Lowe.

Playing in a World Series during a pandemic meant creating a bubble with teammates, family members, but also with the other team. This year, both organizations stayed in the same hotel, which meant there were more interactions between opposing players off the field.

“The hours leading up to heading to the field, you’re bumping into these guys in the hallway,” Kolarek said. “That was great for me because so many of those guys were former teammates and they’re still great friends.”

Despite an on-field rivalry during the 2020 season, Kolarek and Lowe share a common love for and a deep family connection to the University of Maryland.

Kolarek’s father, Frank, played baseball at Maryland from 1973-75. Kolarek also met his wife on Route One at RJ Bentley’s. Lowe met his wife, Madison Martin, at Maryland as well during their study hall at the Xfinity Center. Martin was a Terp on the softball team and made 128 pitching appearances.

Kolarek grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, attended Catonsville High School and stayed close to home for college in 2008. Over his two years as a Terp, Kolarek had 19 shutout innings and 55 strikeouts in 75.1 innings.

The pitcher’s former Rays teammate, Lowe, grew up in Suffolk, Virginia. As a freshman in 2013, he missed the season due to an injury, but during his two active seasons at Maryland, Lowe had a .338 batting average and was a two-time All-American.

Lowe describes one of his favorite moments as a Terp as when the team went down to the South Carolina Regional in the NCAA Tournament. As the team was closing in on a victory, Carolina fans began to try and hype up the crowd so loudly, his ears rattled.

“At that point in my life I’d never seen anything like that,” said Lowe. “And then, you know, our guy comes in, shuts the door on them, the entire stadium just quiets out and everyone leaves. We end up dog piling and it was probably one of the best moments I’ve had.”

After being drafted by the Mets in 2010, Kolarek played in the minor leagues until he signed with the Rays before the 2016 season. He made his debut in the major leagues in June of 2017.

The Baltimore native played in 97 games with Tampa before being traded to the Dodgers. When he first arrived in Los Angeles, Kolarek appeared in 26 games, and despite playing six fewer games during the 2020 season, the lefty pitched 19 innings and had a 0.95 ERA.

Kolarek’s postseason consisted of four appearances totaling 3.1 innings. The southpaw finished with a 13.5 ERA, three strikeouts and one ring.

Lowe was drafted in 2015 by the Tampa Bay Rays in the third round and made his major league debut in 2018. Since then in three seasons with the Rays, Lowe has a .262 batting average, 162 hits, 37 home runs and 113 RBIs. In 2019, Lowe was third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and was a 2019 All-Star, despite missing much of the season due to injury.

His second season got off to another hot start, posting a .269 batting average with 14 home runs in the abbreviated season, leading the team in a number of statistical categories as the Rays clinched first place in the American League.

The postseason, however, was a different story for the young star. Lowe finished with just six hits, four of which were home runs. The second baseman tallied 19 strikeouts in 15 games throughout the postseason.

Of Lowe’s four home runs and eight RBIs, two of those dingers came when he and his team needed them most — Game Two of the World Series. After losing the first game by five runs, Lowe hit two opposite-field home runs, making him the first player to do that in a World Series game and the first Terp to hit a home run in the World Series since 1942.

“As soon as I started [running], I am pretty sure I blacked out, you know, there wasn’t a whole lot going through my head,” said Lowe.

And two games later, he made more history playing across from his former teammate. Just two Terps trying to fight their way to the top of the league.

“You don’t make a career again facing guys like Lowe every single time. I’m going to take it sparingly. And, you know, if that’s the only time I get to face him, that’s okay with me,” said Kolarek with a smile.