One More Swing

August 7, 2017

This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of Athletic Management

College playing careers can be curtailed for any number of reasons. For Tom Joannou, the decision to step off the baseball diamond was due to an amazing job opportunity—working for the President of the United States. Just as amazing was how Joannou’s coach honored the rising political star.

At the start of 2016, Joannou was a top baseball player for the New York Institute of Technology and planned on spending his summer participating in a college league. However, a late-season slump left the junior with limited on-field choices for the break, so he went looking for other opportunities. He landed an internship with the Trump presidential campaign.

That fall, he was offered a full-time paid position on the campaign’s finance team. Joannou managed to juggle his role as employee, student, and baseball player through most of the fall semester. Then, after Trump’s election victory in November, Joannou was offered a job as a staff assistant to one of the transition team’s senior White House advisors.

Accepting the position would require moving to Washington, D.C., and finishing his degree via online classes. It would also mean giving up his college baseball career.

“He came into my office, and we talked about it,” says NYIT Head Baseball Coach Bob Malvagna. “I told him, ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity—you have to take it.’”

But Malvagna did not remove Joannou from the roster. And when NYIT landed in D.C. for a weekend series against Georgetown University in early April, Malvagna told Joannou he had his uniform waiting for him in the dugout.

“It was always in the back of my mind that I would like to get him in a game for us somewhere,” says Malvagna. “I wanted to give him that last chance to close out his career.”

Because he was still an online student at NYIT, there were no hiccups in terms of eligibility. “The rest of the coaching staff and the administration were all on board with it,” Malvagna says. “And the support from players was off the charts.”

Knocking the rust off with some batting practice on Saturday morning, Joannou played in the second game of the series, starting in his normal position—right field. On Sunday, he admitted he was sore, and Malvagna kept him in the dugout—until the end of the game.

In the top of the ninth inning, the coach told his former star he needed to take one more at bat, and put him in as a pinch-hitter. Joannou delivered a single to right field. “It was such a great thing,” says Malvagna. “He came off of the field to a standing ovation.”

Leading the celebration were Joannou’s teammates, who now have a greater insight into their own careers. “It’s not easy to walk away from the last semester of the sport you love,” says Malvagna. “I think our players learned how valuable being a student-athlete is—and how sooner or later it ends for everyone.”

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