Dan Kantrovitz couldn’t wait for Brown to ask for his help with their struggling baseball program so he recruited himself. Now an All Ivy and All New England shortstop, four summers ago Kantrovitz was just another eager high-school player vying for a head coach’s attention. Brown’s new head baseball coach, Marek Drabinski, had just been hired to replace Bill Almon ’75. He was still unpacking boxes and getting settled in his office when Kantrovitz started pestering him.
“When I got here in mid-August of 1996, Dan called and left a message on the answering machine,” Drabinski recalls. “The message from our office still had Almon’s voice on it.” The new coach took a look around his office and discovered more traces of Kantrovitz. Amid the clutter, he found a questionnaire the player had filled out for Almon, and a videotape Kantrovitz had put together with one of his high-school coaches. His curiosity piqued, Drabinski started calling the references Kantrovitz had included on the form.
Living in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Missouri, Kantrovitz earned effusive praise for his high-school play. “We heard nothing but good things about him,” Drabinski says. When the coach checked in with some of his collegiate-baseball contacts and found out that Kantrovitz was being pursued by Notre Dame, Michigan, and Duke, he realized that he’d better start paying the recruit some attention. “The fact that he was being recruited by them proves he was as good as we saw on tape,” Drabinski says.
Kantrovitz’s recommendations, not to mention his persistence, also found a match in Drabinski’s late-summer desperation to find and field a solid team in his first season. “I told my assistant we had to look at these tapes to try and fill in our recruiting class,” Drabinski says. “It was too late to see any kids live, so we went through the videotapes. Dan stuck out. We usually don’t want to take a player we’ve only seen on tape,” the coach adds, “but by watching the tape, we could tell Dan had good hands and could swing the bat.” And besides, Drabinski notes, he needed players.
Luckily for the coach, Kantrovitz’s connection to Brown was more than a casual one. The player’s mother, Barbara Brodky Kantrovitz, had spent her first two years of college at Brown before going on to finish her undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis.
Kantrovitz visited Brown with his parents late in the summer of 1996 and hit it off with Drabinski. Even before he came back to campus for his official visit two months later, Kantrovitz says he knew he wanted to be part of Drabinski’s overhaul of Bear baseball, which had not had a winning season since 1988.
“Since my mother went there, we figured, why not take a look?” Kantrovitz says. “As it turned out, I loved the place. I talked with coach Drabinski, and I was very impressed with what he wanted to do with the program. He was very enthusiastic about turning it around, and I believed him.” Kantrovitz had narrowed his final college choices to Brown, Harvard, and Princeton. Ironically, it was the Bears’ weakness on the baseball diamond that helped Kantrovitz make up his mind. “Brown seemed like a place where I could play right away,” he says.
After watching him carefully during the fall and winter months, Drabinski decided to make Kantrovitz Brown’s starting shortstop in his freshman season. He hasn’t had a glimmer of regret about the decision: Kantrovitz has since become one of the centerpieces of the Bears’ increasingly exciting baseball revival. During the forty-six games of his freshman season, for example, Kantrovitz finished second on the team in hitting (.303) and tied for third in RBIs (twenty-nine). By contrast, the team had a mediocre 7–13 showing in the Ivy League while racking up a school-record thirty-seven losses for the season.
Kantrovitz’s numbers have gotten better with each passing year, but not until the 1999 season did he and his teammates truly blossom. Last year the basebeall Bears tied a school record for wins, going 23–18 overall; at 13–7, the team enjoyed its most successful Ivy League season in history, taking second place in the Rolfe Division behind Harvard.
Even though Kantrovitz got off to a slow start last season, once he settled into a groove, he hit every baseball in sight. The five-foot-eight-inch 180-pound right-handed batter led the team with a .427 hitting average (eleventh best nationally in Division 1), and he won the Ivy League’s Charles H. Blair Bat Award with a .478 hitting average in twenty league games. Brown’s first Blair Bat winner since John King hit .512 in 1979, Kantrovitz also led the league in hits (thirty-two) and doubles (ten), and was fourth in runs scored. He finished the season with a school-record twenty-four-game batting streak and set Brown’s single-season record for doubles with fifteen.
“Dan wants to win,” says Drabinski. “He wants to turn this program around as badly as the coaches do.” No one was more surprised that Kantrovitz hit .427 last year than his head coach. Drabinski knew the shortstop had good hands and a quick bat, but “it’s tough to hit .400 at any level,” he says. “I never thought he’d hit .427 and lead the league. Never.” The key to Kantrovitz’s success was a steady focus and a scrappy, indefatigable attitude when he was at bat. “He never went into a slump. He always found a way to get a hit,” Drabinski says. “With the game on the line – bases loaded and two outs – he’s the guy I want up. I’d take Dan any time.”
Now priming for the 2000 season, Drabinski, Kantrovitz, and the rest of the Bears want to take Brown baseball to the next level: an Ivy League championship and the school’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. They will be without All Ivy infielder Peter DeYoung ’99, who graduated, and pitcher Graeme Brown ’00, who left school after being drafted in the thirty-seventh round by the New York Mets. But everyone else is back, including such All Ivy players as second baseman Jeff Lawler ’00 and center fielder Todd Iarussi ’01, and All New England and All Ivy second-team selection Jim Johnson ’01 at pitcher. The pitching staff has also been bolstered by the addition of Stanford transfer Jeff Pashalides ’01. Even the critics seem to agree this may be a watershed year for the Bears: Baseball America has picked Brown to finish first in the Rolfe Division.
“Last year was gratifying for me personally, but it doesn’t mean much,” Kantrovitz says. “We didn’t win the Ivy League and we didn’t go to the [NCAA] Regionals. That’s our goal this year. It’s written on the bulletin board in our locker room and we see it every day: Ivy League Champions. NCAA tournament.” - Scott Cole
Scott Cole is a freelance writer living in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.