QC’s Baseball Coach Shares Story
In fall 2002, Tom Sowinski, then Manhattan College’s head baseball coach sat Mike Parisi, a high-strung but talented freshman pitcher, down beside him on the team bus during a trip back home from Lehigh, Pa.
Parisi had just been shelled for 10 runs in one inning. It was a repeated regrettable performance that required reflection.
Sowinski told him that, “You probably think your world is crumbling and you’re not going to pitch but I just want you to know that you are going to pitch in the spring. I recruited you to pitch big innings as a freshman. But do you want to keep having performances like this, or are you going to listen to me?”
Two years later, Parisi was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals. More than a decade later, Sowinski’s the head baseball coach for Queens College, and the borough legend is hoping this is the year he adds to a local legacy.
The Archbishop Molloy High School Hall of Famer and St. John’s University product has his work cut out for him as the Queens College Knights head into Florida this week for their first games of 2013. Under Sowinski, the Knights are 41-90 overall in three seasons. To be fair, though, the program has not had a winning season since 1998. That’s one thing that’s not exactly riding in the Howard Beach resident’s favor.
“I came here for the challenge,” he said.
Here’s another: Sowinkski is a 67-year-old skipper who-in an era where radar guns rule despite often working like fun-house mirrors- preaches command and control to young college guys who would simply rather throw the ball as hard as possible.
Sometimes, players like Parisi eventually warm up to the manager’s philosophy. But not always.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “Before you throw a pitch, a hitter can swing, so a good hitter is going to catch up to it. It’s where you put it; not how fast it is.”
Sowinski would know.
He was 30-2 in high school and was All-City Most Valuable Player twice while being the star pitcher on the legendary Jack Curran’s first city championships. He set St. John’s University records for wins and shutouts in a season and went 41-7 in college. In the 1968 College World Series, he was 2-0 with a shutout against Harvard University to win All-Tournament honors. The St. John’s Hall of Famer was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 25th round of the 1968 MLB June Amateur Draft.
He accomplished it all with moderate velocity, a will to win and a knack for hitting locations.
“His modus operandi was control,” said Jack Kaiser, who managed Sowinski at St. John’s from 1966-68. “He never was a flamethrower. He had a beautiful breaking pitch which he could always throw knee-high on the outside corner.”
After experiencing some success early-on in the minor leagues-he only allowed 41 walks in 221 innings pitched-the right-hander was told by the new manager for the Double- A Albuquerque Dodgers that he wouldn’t be used much because he didn’t throw hard enough.
“I asked for my release,” Sowinski said. “I wasn’t going to be a career minor-leaguer.”
And just like that, after three seasons, including a 7-1 record and a 2.22 earned run average in one campaign, Sowinski traded in his spikes for a cable television job.
But at 37, Sowinski was recommended to Adelphi University as a pitching coach, a position he took and one where his no-nonsense, straightforward approach enabled success- many were not surprised.
“I kind of suspected he would coach,” Kaiser said. “His knowledge of pitching was so great.”
As associate head coach and pitching coach at Adelphi from 1985- 1999, his teams participated in four Division II College World Series and seven NCAA Regional Tournaments.
After his time at Adelphi, Sowinski spent a year as head coach at Queensborough Community College before moving on to Manhattan College as the Jaspers’ associate head coach and pitching coach. In his five years at Manhattan from 2000-2005, the team earned its first ever playoff berth, while 14 players-eight of them pitchers-signed contracts to play professional baseball.
After being informed of the opening by Curran, Sowinski wound up calling the shots for Queens College where two things have remained the same despite a lack of wins.
“He’s a player’s coach but he doesn’t take any nonsense,” said Warren Kelly, Queens College’s senior captain outfielder. “And he can’t stand when people give up walks.”
In Flushing, Sowinski does not have the blue-chip players he had in Manhattan like Parisi. The Division II school’s poor track record doesn’t entice many. Therefore, his new theory is to take transfers from junior colleges. He’s also toughened the team’s out-of-conference schedule, hoping the lumps they take against stronger competition will better prepare them for league games.
Sowinski said he won’t be coaching in his 80s like Curran, but there’s still time left to change things around at Queens-under one condition.
“I’ll coach as long as it’s still fun,” he said. “I don’t think losing will be a reason to stop. Sooner or later, we’ll turn it around.”