College baseball: Cloquet’s Pokornowski excels on the diamond and gridiron for UMD
Former News Tribune football player of the year is also gifted at baseball.
DULUTH — Tim Pokornowski laughed when being called “a bit of a dinosaur” the other day.
No, make no mistake, Pokornowski is no fossil. He’s not from the Jurassic period, just a Minnesota Duluth senior center fielder, but they certainly don’t make too many like the Cloquet native any more.
Pokornowski excels at two sports at Minnesota Duluth, baseball and football.
Pokornowski said it’s a challenge but nothing he can’t handle.
“Time management is the biggest thing to juggle, and being able to prepare for both sports, just changing my brain,” Pokornowski said. “I have to switch my focus and get in a different mode because going from football to baseball, they’re different games. You have to differentiate between the two.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Pokornowski appears to have managed that well.
Pokornowski played quarterback in high school and led Cloquet to the Class AAAA football championship game in 2017, earning News Tribune player of the year honors in the process. He was slippery as a runner, checking up on a run, only to let the defender cruise by before turning on the jets again. He arrived on the UMD campus the next fall.
After being redshirted in 2018, Pokornowski played in 10 games for the UMD football team in 2019. After the 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID-19, he was set to be the starter at free safety last fall only to break his foot just before the season started. He missed all but the final three games of the season but expects to be the starter at strong safety this fall.
“I miss playing quarterback, I do, but they say I’m a natural as a safety,” Pokornowski said.
Fact is, Pokornowski is probably a natural at a lot of things, hailing from an athletic family.
In baseball, Pokornowski has emerged as a captain and a star. He gets better each year. Going into this weekend, he was second on the team in batting average (.328), first in runs (35) and stolen bases (10) and tied for second in RBIs (28).
While listed as a senior, Pokornowski plans to take advantage of another year of eligibility due to COVID, and that is a good thing for the up-and-coming Bulldogs.
“Tim is a great guy, and a great teammate,” UMD first baseman Brodie Paulson said. “Obviously, everyone knows he performs really well in the field, but he also picks people up and helps people out. He is just a great team guy.”
Pokornowski has become more mature and patient at the plate, helping cut his strikeouts by more than half from last season (26 compared to 59), while at the same time becoming more of a vocal leader.
“He’s calmed down and let the game come to him more, and when the game slows down, he’s able to let his skill set come to the forefront,” UMD coach Bob Rients said. “And when the game slows down, he understands what’s coming next and lets the younger guys know what they need to be prepared for.”
Pokornowski also plays a mean center field for the Bulldogs (20-22 overall, 14-15 NSIC), who next week expect to play in the NSIC tournament for the first time since 2017.
“Tim is athletic. He can go get some baseballs, that’s for sure, and can cover a ton of ground,” Rients said. “And no matter what happens, he’s ready for the next pitch, he’s ready for the next play. I think football establishes that, you gotta get right back in there, right? He’s tough and physically aggressive, and that helps with establishing a mentality within our entire team. It’s been fun to watch.”
The 2022 UMD baseball team has grit and relishes an underdog role. If the Bulldogs get knocked down, they get back up, knowing that comebacks are possible.
Pokornowski is the epitome of that mentality. Of all the multifaceted aspects of Pokornowski’s multisport game, giving up isn’t one of them.
“I think my preparation and process has improved over the years, the mental part of my approach both before and during games,” Pokornowski said. “I try to think positive thoughts and just have confidence in myself and in my teammates that we can do it. We’re putting all the pieces together here towards the end of the season, and it’s really nice to see. It’s exciting. Hopefully we can scratch out a few wins here and come out on top.”