UB Bull Nick Sinay is back on the base path
Outfielder Nick Sinay overcomes injury to become a potential draft pick
As a junior in high school, Nick Sinay blasted a two-run homerun over the right-center field wall of NBT Bank Stadium, where the Syracuse Chiefs, the Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, play. In his next at-bat, he hit a ground rule double that bounced over the 407-foot marker in center field.
“It was a man-sized thing for a kid to do,” said Peter Birmingham, Sinay’s high school head coach.
Sinay, who is currently a junior centerfielder for the Bulls, is Buffalo's all-time leader in stolen bases with 59, has an on-base this season percentage of .492 and is a potential draft pick in June’s MLB Amateur Draft.
But before he stole his first base at Buffalo – even before his high school career began – Sinay wasn’t sure if he was going to play sports ever again.
He wasn’t even sure if he would walk again.
In the fall of eighth grade, Sinay endured a bilateral fracture in his L5 vertebrae in his lower back. The injury could have left him paralyzed or bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The doctors said it was caused by a growth spurt and overexertion.
The L5 vertebrae are the base of the spine – they provide stability for the rest of the spine and support the weight of the entire torso. The sciatic nerve, which runs through both legs, is located in this vertebrae segment and could become damaged if the L5, or other lower parts of the lumbar spine are damaged.
Originally, Sinay thought he only pulled a back muscle when he was playing basketball with his friends. But then he fell to the ground in pain after landing from a layup attempt.
Sinay, who assumed the injury was mild, took several weeks off to recover before attempting to try out for his junior varsity baseball team as a 13-year-old. That was when the pain of the injury returned.
As Sinay went into the batting cages to practice his swing, he experienced what he called “the worst pain of his life.”
His back completely gave out and he was immobilized for an entire day.
“I couldn’t even walk,” Sinay said. “I knew at that point, it was more than just a pulled muscle.”
After a bone scan, the doctors told Sinay he bilaterally fractured his L5 vertebrae – they said he may never be able to play sports again.
Upon hearing the diagnosis, Sinay said his face turned white and his stomach turned over.
“For a doctor to say that to a kid who eats, sleeps and breathes sports … it crushed me,” Sinay said.
His parents, Paul and Linda Sinay, were also distraught.
Surgery wasn’t an option because he was so young. The only potential treatment for the fracture was rest and rehabilitation, according to the doctors, Sinay said. The most crucial part of Sinay’s recovery was to keep his core muscles strong to provide support for his back.
Sinay spent months away from baseball and went to physical therapy.
Then, during a checkup in June, the doctors told Sinay and his mother there was a chance he could return to athletics.
Sinay called his father soon after, who said there was no greater joy than to hear his son could return to do what he loved doing – competing in sports.
“I remember how our faces just lit up with the biggest smiles that were filled with excitement,” Sinay said. “It was the best news we could have possibly heard.”
During his year and a half hiatus, Sinay lifted weights and worked out religiously to rehabilitate. He said he spent about eight hours per week in the weight room. Paul said he had never seen his son in better shape before in his life.
By the spring of his freshman year of high school, Sinay was able to return to the diamond. He made the varsity team without an indication that an injury had ever occurred.
Sinay has been symptom-free ever since.
Birmingham, the head baseball coach at Sinay’s alma mater Marcellus High School, said he didn’t see any signs of his injury and Sinay played like he was physically at 100 percent. Sinay became one of the best players Birmingham had ever seen.
Sinay was recruited most heavily by Buffalo and Northeastern University and received letters from other schools expressing their interest.
Sinay said he ultimately picked Buffalo because it’s where he could get the most out of his baseball career.
In his freshman season with the Bulls, Sinay served mostly as an outfield defensive substitute and a pinch runner, stealing three bases in 2013.
Since arriving in Buffalo, Buffalo head coach Ron Torgalski said Sinay has “developed into a solid player and taken the roles he’s needed to.”
Sinay’s best strength is his speed, which allows him to cover a wide range between left-center and right-center field and makes him a constant threat to steal. Sinay said he inherited his speed from his father, who also played baseball in college.
Torgalski defines Sinay as a tough, hard-nosed, gritty player who has developed into a “pro prospect.”
“Nick’s one of those guys that the opposing team probably hates,” Torgalski said. “He’s a nightmare to them because he can do so many things. He can steal second, steal third, go first to third on a base hit, swing or bunt for a hit. Once he’s on base, teams have to concentrate on him.”
Sinay became the program all-time leader in steals on Sunday against Miami Ohio and he is attempting to set the single season school record. He wants to steal at least 50 bases this season.
And two games past the halfway point of the season, he’s 13 away from breaking the record and halfway to 50. The Bulls record for most stolen bases in a season is 37, set by outfielder/first baseman Bob Amico in 1976.
Last year, Sinay stole 31 bases in 51 games. With a newfound confidence, Sinay has stolen 25 bases in 27 games.
“I felt kind of timid last season,” Sinay said. “Now I feel comfortable going on any pitch I want.”
Sinay said his speed is an integral part of his game and potentially the best aspect he brings to the field.
“He’s … probably the best base runner I’ve ever coached,” Birmingham said. “He used to take enormous leads at first base – foolish for any other player that I’ve had. But for him, it was well within his ability.”
Sometimes, the team would have to tell Sinay to stop stealing because he constantly had “the green light” to go. Birmingham and the coaches often gave Sinay the special “stop” sign, which was implemented if the team was winning by too large of a margin. Birmingham said they didn’t want to embarrass the other teams with Sinay’s speed.
Torgalski said professional scouts love his quickness around the base path. He runs the 60-yard dash in 6.3 seconds.
“You don't find many guys like that,” Torgalski said. “One of the things I’m most impressed with is how quickly he gets to full speed. When he steals bases, he reaches full speed faster than anyone I've ever seen.”
Sinay’s parents said they are are proud of his humility. They said he always works hard at whatever he does and never boasts.
“He's never ahead of anyone on the team – he's a true team player that works so hard to get better,” Linda said. “We’re so proud of the man he has become.”
Torgalski said he believes Sinay has unlimited potential because he just keeps getting better.
“He's learning the strike zone, learning how to get on base all the time, he’s the kind of guy the pro scouts are interested in, and I think more and more people are going to take interest in him,” Torgalski said.
Sinay is regarded as a potential selection in this year’s MLB Amateur Draft. Several major league teams are talking with Sinay and he said he is excited for the potential opportunity. The MLB Amateur Draft is June 8-10 this year.
Sinay hopes to hear his name called.
Bobby McIntosh is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org