BLACKSBURG - Pat Pinkman is a former Virginia Tech baseball player who was named the Atlantic 10’s Rookie of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 1998. He won 19 games on the mound in his four-year Hokie career and struck out 219 batters, and then ended his time in Blacksburg after the 2002 season.
However, Pinkman came back to campus in the fall of 2012 – a journey that had been long and humbling. After realizing that to get to where he wanted to be in life, he needed the one thing that eludes some student-athletes after their eligibility is ends – a college diploma. In the past 18 months, Pinkman has been a student assistant coach with the Virginia Tech baseball program while working on a degree in sociology.
On Friday, Pinkman will walk across the stage during the fall commencement ceremony and pick up his diploma.
“My dad growing up playing baseball was a catcher, but he had two left-handed sons, so he figured he couldn’t teach them how to catch,” Pinkman said. “He figured he might as well teach them how to be pitchers. So when I was 11, he started teaching my brother and me how to pitch, and other people wanted lessons from him, so he just started a business from there.
“That was basically one of the reasons why I never finished. Once I was done with my eligibility, I had a job back home working in the family business, and I always thought I could finish my degree later.”
Almost a decade later, Pinkman was working approximately 70 hours a week, still giving lessons while also working a full-time job at a kitchen design company. The latter job allowed him to put his artistic talents to use – he was an art major at Tech during his playing days.
But a conversation one night with then-girlfriend Laura Massie served as an awakening of sorts for him. Here he was working 70 hours a week without a college degree. Maybe it was time to start on a different path. The subject of coaching in college came up, but so, too, did the obstacles of starting at the bottom and as a volunteer. The couple went back and forth on it for a week before Pinkman decided just to go for it.
Pinkman ended up getting a position as a volunteer assistant coach and was the pitching coach at Washington University in St. Louis, a Division III school. But after one season with the Bears, the right scenario gave Pinkman the opportunity to return to Blacksburg to get his degree and coach. Tech’s volunteer assistant coach, Ryan Connelly, had left Tech for a full-time position, creating an opening.
“The idea of coming back to Virginia Tech was always a huge want, but it was never really a reality,” Pinkman said. “I was floored by the opportunity, and I am so grateful to Coach Hughes [former Tech coach Pete Hughes] for it.”
He started working for the Hokies in August 2012, and he enrolled in classes, changing his major from art to sociology. He attended classes and practices and was on the road trips, but he also put in office hours. His workload demanded his attention for more than 12 hours a day.
“I was not a dedicated student when I was here,” the 34-year-old Pinkman said. “At the time, like most college baseball players, I thought I was going to be a professional baseball player, and that was my goal. So I didn’t take my academics as seriously as I should have.
“Once I contacted Mike Swanhart [baseball’s academic counselor in Student-Athlete Academic Support Services], I realized I needed more hours than I originally expected. But he figured out I could finish my degree with fewer hours if I changed my major to sociology. So Mike helped me organize a plan so that I could come here for a year and a half and coach and get my degree.”
Pinkman finished up all his coursework and is set to walk. He certainly counts his blessings and is very appreciative of everyone who has helped him get to this point, which included the entire baseball coaching staffs at Washington and Virginia Tech, Jon Jaudon [Tech’s associate AD for administration], who started here around the time Pinkman was on campus, Reyna Gilbert-Lowry [assistant AD for student life], and Swanhart.
“They obviously had a vested interest in helping a former Virginia Tech athlete graduate,” Pinkman said. “But it’s also clear that they were interested in ‘ME’ finishing my degree. And was that’s really cool to see.”
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