Family, friends, teammates and faculty members gathered together Monday night at Reagan Field to honor the passing of former baseball player and recent graduate Mike Kozlowski.
The former ’Breds player and electromechanical engineering major left behind a legacy that will be remembered for a long time. Many attending the vigil wore navy and gold T-shirts with the phrase, “Heroes get remembered but legends never die” written on them. The electromechanical engineering professors came up with the idea to help remember “Koz,” as he was affectionately called.
Kozlowski, formerly of Crown Point, Ind., passed away tragically in an ATV accident Aug. 16.
The solemn evening began with senior Racer, Anthony Bayus, saying a few words. Both Bayus and Kozlowski played baseball for John A. Logan College before coming to Murray State. Kozlowski was a two-time letterwinner during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
He finished his career at Murray State with a .300 average, 32 doubles, six triples and four homeruns and 82 RBIs. History was made when he hit a cycle for the ’Breds March 16 for a victory over UT Martin.
“At first glance Mike was a pretty intimidating guy,” Bayus said. “Although we didn’t share the field together I had the pleasure of getting to know him as my career at Murray State started. He was one of the most caring and loving men I have ever met.”
Bayus recounted fond memories of Kozlowski and his value as a teammate and friend.
“He was always one to take care of everybody and make sure everyone was OK on and off the field,” Bayus said. “Koz walked the walk and talked the talk. His thoughtfulness and caring personality set the bar for those around him.
“After Kozlowski left, I thought, ‘You have big shoes to fill.’ Little did I know the baseball shoes would be the smallest shoes to fill. Foremost, he was even a more amazing person off the field, which is saying a lot because we all know he was a hell of a baseball player.”
The Racers dedicated the upcoming season to Kozlowski. Brad Burns, the baseball team’s chaplain, led the candlelit vigil in prayer and reflection.
“While Koz was only here for two years at Murray State; you can see the ripple effect of how important he was,” Burns said. “It’s OK to struggle; this is a difficult time. Take these lessons he taught them and apply them to life – that’s how you can honor your friend.”
Psalm 23, James 14 and John 3 were among a few of many Bible verses Burns read at the memorial.
A moment of silence followed the chaplain’s words and the attendees bowed their heads in prayer, remembering their friend.
Also speaking at the vigil was Kozlowski’s longtime girlfriend, Toni Montgomery.
The candlelit vigil, held Aug. 25, marked what would’ve been Kozlowski’s 24th birthday. In honor of his birthday, Toni passed out 24 navy and gold balloons to send up thoughts and happy wishes.
As the crowd rounded out melancholy verses of “Happy Birthday” the balloons slowly drifted up into the sky.
Montgomery had moving words for the small assembly.
“This year, play for Michael,” she said. “He loved life; he loved Murray State University. When you lose, lose the Michael way – take it in stride.”
Poise and words of thanks came from Montgomery. Her appreciation went out to the baseball team for coming to the funeral and all those who came for the vigil.
“Just know as you take the field, you have an extra angel on your side,” Montgomery said. “We’ll be on the sidelines as well (Kozlowski’s family and hers,) cheering you guys on.”
Not only was Kozolowski a baseball player, he was also a member of an award-winning Chainless team. The team won a National Engineering Championship in California last year. The competition helped put Murray State on the map as a top competitive engineering program.
The impact Kozlowski left during his short time on Earth and at Murray State was represented by the many attendees of the vigil.
Story by Laura Kovarik, Contributing writer