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April 5, 2013

Back to School

By: Jimmy Robertson

More than 10 years after his playing days ended, former Tech pitcher Pat Pinkman is helping coach at his alma mater while also finishing up work on his degree

This season, Virginia Tech baseball is currently utilizing a pair of student assistant coaches. One, Michael McMenamin, is a 23-year-old young man who has been involved with the program since he first came to campus and is completing his degree while still working with the team. In essence, he is starting his coaching career.

The other is a name that could ring a bell, Pat Pinkman, the former Tech player who was the Atlantic 10’s Rookie of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 1998. A man who won 19 games on the mound in his four-year Hokie career and struck out 219 batters. He’s not your typical student assistant coach.

Pinkman’s journey back to Blacksburg has been long and humbling, but he’s realized that, to get to where he wants to be in life, he needs the one thing that eludes some student-athletes after their eligibility is complete – a college degree.

“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.

“I was just getting tired of the rat race,” Pinkman said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to continue to work at the academy (his father’s business) anymore, but I wanted to stay in baseball. So she said, ‘Why don’t you coach?’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to coach high school because then that means you have to teach, and I don’t have a degree.’”

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.

“I just started talking to coaches. I had a pretty good network, and I just started asking questions,” he said. “And they said, ‘Go for it. You would be perfect for it.’ I started getting motivated to do it, but I spent a whole year researching what I needed to do, how to get in the coaching circle and how to go about starting the process.

“Most guys in my position are Mike McMenamin’s age – 25 years or even younger, right out of college. They are volunteering, and they are starting their coaching careers. It was a little bit of a daunting task at first.”

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 last July.

“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 (Pete) Hughes for it. I’m able to finish my degree, and I’m getting to coach at Virginia Tech, at the Division I level, in the ACC. It’s just a blessing to be in this situation.”

He started working for Hughes last August, and he enrolled in classes, changing his major from art to sociology. Now, he’s just like any current member of the baseball team, a cautionary tale for any of the men he’s currently coaching. He attends classes and practices and is on the road trips, but he also puts in office hours. His workload demands his attention for more than 12 hours a day.

“I was not a dedicated student when I was here,” the 33-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, two years maybe, and coach and get my degree.”

Pinkman hopes to finish up all his coursework by next December. He certainly counts his blessings and is very appreciative of everyone who has helped him get to this point, which includes 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 have a vested interest in helping a former Virginia Tech athlete graduate,” Pinkman said. “But it also clear that they are interested in ‘ME’ finishing my degree. And that’s really cool to see.”

But most of all, he counts his former girlfriend and now wife – the two married in June of 2012, just weeks after his Washington baseball season ended and about a month before he moved to Blacksburg – as the biggest blessing of all. She lives in Annandale, Va., and has continued to live there and work while Pinkman has been on this journey.

“The struggles that my wife and I are going through now are going to pay off in the long run because I’m going to have my degree,” he said. “I’m going to be doing something that I truly love. If it weren’t for her being able to help me out and support me emotionally and financially, I wouldn’t be able to be doing what I’m doing right now.

“We’re struggling now so we can benefit from this later, and it’s something that I stress with the guys so much now. I tell them, ‘Regardless of what you do when you do it, make sure you finish your degree because that’s one thing that could potentially hold you back.’”

If anyone would know, it’s Pinkman. He’s taking the hard road to get his, and he’s letting Tech’s players know it. It’s not a road he wants to see them taking.