Spring 2013

Pitching a perfect career

Tim Sinicki puts his own spin on success

Feature Image
Jonathan Cohen
Tim Sinicki's baseball team is playing this year in a new facility after playing all of 2012's games away from home because of construction. The team had been picked to finish third in the 2013 America East Preseason Coaches' poll — but the team finished as America East champions.

In 1988, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin was looking for a sports reporter, someone with strong reportorial skills and a solid understanding of sports. The editors received a batch of applications, but when Tim Sinicki showed up, they knew they’d found their man.

Sinicki had a portfolio of work he’d done as a sports information intern. He proved he could write, but there was no need to prove his sports aptitude. The editors already knew about that, as did anyone who followed sports in Binghamton.

Growing up in nearby Johnson City, Sinicki was a high school stand-out in football, basketball and baseball. As a Binghamton University freshman, he displayed such proficiency as a pitcher that he was named all-conference. Academically, however, he says, “I felt like I needed to explore other opportunities.”

In his sophomore year he transferred to Broome Community College, where he was named All-Region III and caught the attention of Pittsburgh Pirates scouts who tabbed him in the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Sinicki declined, however, transferring to Western Carolina. There, over the next two years, he got a bracing taste of big-time, Division I baseball. Against the kind of competition that makes or breaks, he compiled 15 wins, helping the Catamounts win back-to-back Southern Conference titles and going to the NCAA Division I championships each year.

Beyond those credentials, he brought to the Press & Sun-Bulletin a professionalism that sometimes takes years to hone — strong organizational skills and a no-nonsense work ethic. If he saw games through the eyes of an all-star, he documented them with the precision of an actuary.

“We still have record binders Skip compiled back in the 1980s,” says long-time sports reporter Kevin Stevens, who has known Sinicki as “Skip” for nearly 30 years. “When you open one, you instantly know it’s his work. The penmanship is perfect. The lines are carefully drawn. And his stats were always flawless.”

The neophyte reporter, notes Stevens, “was probably the most competitive individual I ever met. In those days we’d play charity basketball games against the local TV station. I remember him dunking behind his head in warm-ups. He was the same way in softball.”

For Sinicki, though, merely writing about sports would never satisfy his competitive hunger. His playing days might be over, but he had another goal in mind.

“I was drawn to coaching,” he says. “At Western Carolina I carefully studied Coach Jack Leggett,” now head coach at Clemson. “Not just the way he managed games, but the way he ran his whole program. How he mentored his players. He had the biggest influence on my philosophy of coaching.” 

When a baseball coaching job opened at Binghamton in 1992, no one was surprised that Sinicki leaped for it, Stevens says. Nor was anyone surprised with the success that ensued, beginning with the 1993 season when Binghamton was still playing Division III, and his team, though finishing 12–14, won six of their last nine games.

Competitive and compassionate

Ask anyone who knows Binghamton’s longest-tenured head coach to describe him, and his athletic record is probably not the first thing they’ll talk about. Former players, close associates, even competing coaches — they always start with his character.

“Tim’s as classy a person as you’ll find,” says Matt Senk, head baseball coach at Stony Brook for nearly 25 years. “He really respects the game. Win or lose, he’s always gracious.”

“He’s as tough a competitor as you’ll find,” says Albany Head Coach Jon Mueller, against whose team Binghamton won the conference championship in 2009, “but he’s also been my closest friend in the business. When I lost my brother to cancer last summer, he was there for me. Tim’s a stand-up guy.” 

Sinicki gives his parents, Stephen and Barbara Sinicki, credit for that. “His mom, especially, was a powerful influence,” says former Binghamton Coach Dan McCormack, who knew the family well. “She insisted on doing things right. ‘No shortcuts!’ she would tell him and his brother. ‘Nobody gives you anything in life. You have to earn it.’”

“When my brother, Chris, and I were playing, my folks never missed a game,” recalls Sinicki. “Even when I went away to college in North Carolina, they made trips as often as possible. They taught me all the values that have helped me succeed.”

They are the values he, like all great coaches, expects of his players: never miss a practice, be on time, respect people, be there for your teammates.

Measuring success

Those values and the skills that made Sinicki a first-rate statistician had an impact on the Bearcats right from the start. In 1994, his second season, his team went 17–15, recording its first winning season in six years. In 1995, they made it to the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division III semifinals, a feat they repeated in 1996. And in 1997, they posted an unambiguous 26–10–1 record and won the conference championship.

It was no guarantee of success in Division I, though. Sinicki tackled the tough transition, helped by a staff that, he declares, “does an outstanding job.”

The secret of his success, he says, is players that remind him of, well, him. “I look for young men who have the talent to succeed in Division I and hopefully help us win the championship,” he says. “When I find them, I talk with a lot of people in their lives. I’m looking for more than just talent. I want to know how they handle success and adversity, especially the latter.”

Finally, he looks at their educational records. It’s no accident that the Bearcats have maintained the highest team grade-point average in the America East for six of the past nine years, achieving a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA in 17 of the past 21 semesters. Players who do well in school, he says, usually know how to maintain balance in their lives.

By 2004, Sinicki’s Division I team had a 22–21 season, third in the nation in win-lose improvement. Three years later the team won the first of three consecutive America East regular-season championships. In 2009, the team captured the conference crown, going on to its first NCAA appearance and victory.

In May, the Bearcats (30-23) captured the program’s second conference title in the past five years with a 4-0 win over top-seeded Maine in the deciding game of the America East championship. That put Binghamton at the 30-win plateau for the third time in the past seven years. The team’s next stop was the NCAA regional championship series.

Four times since 2005 Sinicki has been named America East Coach of the Year. Yet, a more compelling stat is the number of athletes he’s coached who have signed professional contracts — 17 since 2006. And it’s instructive to hear what they have to say about him.

“Tim was far and away the most knowledgeable baseball guy I’d ever met,” says former Binghamton pitcher Murphy Smith, who was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2009. “He’s also a big character guy. He stresses how you represent yourself, your family, your school.”

Former pitcher Scott Diamond ’11, a starter for the Minnesota Twins last season, concurs. “He’s very driven and very smart,” Diamond says. “You always know he’s got a plan for every game. He wants to win, but he also cares very much about his players. From day one he talked to us about the importance of education.” 

In Binghamton, Sinicki has found something he might have missed as a professional athlete. It’s a place where he can invest himself in the lives of both of his families — the three youngsters he and his wife, Tina, are raising and all of the young men who come under his guidance. Therein lies his truest success.

“Tim’s a true family man, with a heart of gold,” observes Associate Athletic Director John Hartrick. “In the past three years he lost both of his parents. During their lengthy illnesses, Tim was always there for them. But he also continued to work, taught and coached his players, and set an example of compassion and professionalism. It was a very emotionally taxing time, and all the while he remained an involved husband and father to his own three children. I consider him a real role model.”