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Baseball’s Matt Senk presides over ascending program

Back when baseball coach Matt Senk first started at Stony Brook in spring of 1991, the school was just Division III and the team was known as the Patriots. He has helped transform the Seawolves into a Division I threat in the America East division.

Senk was a Cortland graduate. “I went to Cortland and actually went up there to play hockey more than baseball, but I had an opportunity to play freshman baseball and that went well,” Senk said. “That sophomore year I went up with the intention of playing both but hockey ended up not working out as well as baseball.”

Senk was a catcher while at Cortland, one of the most demanding positions in any sport. Since catchers handle a pitching staff on a regular basis, they usually make good coaches, and that proved to be true with Senk. “Catching does give you a unique perspective. The whole game is in front of you. You are the field general and you are involved in every aspect of the game.” Some of the most successful coaches in the major leagues have been catchers, like Joe Torre, who won four World Series titles as a manager, and Mike Scioscia, who was also a former catcher who won a championship as a manager.

Before coming to Stony Brook to coach, Senk helped out the varsity baseball team at his old high school, John Glenn. Senk then became a full-time teacher at St. Agnes Cathedral High School, where he coached varsity football and junior varsity baseball.  After St. Agnes closed, Senk moved on to Uniondale, where he was the varsity baseball coach for three years. That high school became Kellenberg Memorial High School, where he also coached varsity for three years before coming to Stony Brook. “I had as a career goal, coaching full time in college, so when the opportunity came up, I left a full-time teaching opportunity to take this part-time,” Senk said.

Senk came to Stony Brook in the fall of 1990, but did not start coaching until the spring of 1991. Over his 22 seasons as head coach, Senk has seen a lot of success in most of his teams. In 1999 Stony Brook won 36 games and won the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference for the first time in school history. His team also went 35-16 in 2001, just two years after becoming a Division I school.

Stony Brook then won an America East title and an NCAA bid for the first time in 2004. It advanced to the NCAA regionals in 2008, after defeating UMBC and Binghamton in the America East tournament.  The team made it to the NCAA regionals again in 2010, where five players made the All-tournament list. “We’ve come from Division III to Division II to Division I, so we’ve had unique challenges from the very beginning all the way through to this season,” coach Senk said.

Senk has also seen a few of his players make it to the next stage and into the major leagues. One of the most recognizable names Senk has coached is Joe Nathan. Nathan is currently the closer for the Texas Rangers after having spent five seasons with the San Francisco Giants and eight seasons with the Minnesota Twins. He was a four-time All-Star with the Twins and also won the American League Rolaids Relief Man Award in 2009. Nathan is also the all-time saves leader for the Twins with 255 saves and has the single-season record for the Twins with 47.

His reason for coming to Stony Brook is an odd one, as Senk’s roommate was Nathan’s high school coach. “Joe was probably the youngest kid in his class, and although he was outstanding student and a very good baseball player, he wasn’t as physically mature as other high school seniors,” Senk said. “He was undersized, so he was not getting recruited heavily. But my roommate and teammate kind of had a crystal ball and he was right.” Nathan was drafted in 1995 in the sixth round, 159th overall, by the Giants and signed the next day. “When Joe came here he had a tremendous gift as soon as he walked onto the field. He had a cannon for an arm and hit a growth spurt when he came here,” Senk said.

Nathan is the most successful player to have played for Senk, but there have been others that have played beyond college. Just recently, the Houston Astros drafted Nick Tropeano, and Senk has seen 35 players sign professional contracts, 25 of which have happened since the team went to Division I.

In his coaching career, Senk has had 95 all-conference players, 36 all-region players and five All-American players.
One of Senk’s greatest accomplishments came earlier in his career, when he went 23-11-1 in 1998. That was a 16-game turnaround from the 1997 season, and it led to his being named Stony Brook’s Men’s Coach of the Year for the fourth time in the decade.

Senk is also a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association.

Over 90 percent of the players Senk coached graduated and moved on into careers or graduate school. Nathan was one of these, as he was an academic All-American twice during his career.

As far as the future of Stony Brook baseball, Senk looks to improve on an already successful program.

“Our goals are to compete for a conference championship every year and if we’re able to meet those goals then a lot of the other goals are winning a regional, going to a superregional and perhaps winning a superregional and hopefully making the College World Series,” Senk said. “We’d also like to continue to improve our facilities and make this facility the best in the Northeast. My vision here is stadium seating, an indoor hitting facility, a clubhouse and just making it as good as we possibly can, maybe on par with a Minor League facility.”

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