By Nicholas Diunte
Tom Sowinski’s presence on the baseball field was always noticeable, whether it was his 6-foot-2 frame bearing down at hitters atop the pitcher’s mound, or his watchful eye from the confines of the dugout.
For more than 40 years, Sowinski remained deeply ingrained in the local baseball community as a player and coach.
On Aug. 7, Queens lost one of its most precious baseball roots when Sowinski died suddenly while playing golf. He was 68.
The Howard Beach resident first made headlines as a pitcher when he earned two-time All-City MVP honors at Archbishop Molloy under the late Jack Curran. He took his talents to Jack Kaiser’s club at St. John’s University, guiding them to a Cinderella run in the 1968 College World Series.
He went 2-0 and garnered an All-Tournament selection alongside USC’s Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
His sweeping performance at the College World Series warranted a 25th round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1968 Major League Baseball draft. He spent three seasons in their minor league system that was briefly interrupted by military service in 1969.
While playing with future Dodgers mainstays Ron Cey and Davey Lopes, Sowinski sensed he was not among their priorities despite posting a winning career record of 15-8.
“I asked for my release,” Sowinski said in a 2013 interview. “I wasn’t going to be a career Minor Leaguer.”
While he never reached the pinnacle of the Major Leagues, his feats as an amateur were notably recognized at the high school and collegiate levels. He was inducted into that Hall of Fame at both SJU and Archbishop Molloy. His 11-win season in 1968 still stands tall in the St. John’s record books, even over future Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola.
Returning to Queens after his sojourn with the Dodgers, Sowinski slowly made his way back into the baseball scene, first coaching at Adelphi University from 1985-99 and then making stops at Queensborough Community College and Manhattan College before settling in at Queens College as its head coach in fall 2009.
He inherited a tough job at Queens, attempting to transform a program that had not have a winning season since 1998. Undaunted by the task, Sowinski took the same bulldog approach with the program that he did on the mound.
“I came here for the challenge,” he said.
In his four seasons at Queens College, he worked hard at building the Division II program at a public school that lacked the bells and whistles of the other private schools in their conference.
His devotion to the program was noted in a release by the school’s athletic department: “Coach Sowinski was a man of passion and love for the game and the student-athletes.”