Last spring, Chris Winkel had to chose to either walk away from collegiate baseball as a graduating senior or return and utilize an extra year of eligibility given by the NCAA after the 2020 season was cut short due to the pandemic.
He had already played three full years with the Huskies before the pandemic cut his senior year just 13 games in.
“It ended up being an easy decision just simply weighing the pros and cons, because the pros so outweighed the cons,” the Huskies’ first baseman said.
In his fifth official year with UConn baseball, the Orange native is looking forward to a season full of change and anticipation, but above that, it’s one more year to play alongside his brother, Pat, in the Husky uniform.
“I knew who was coming back, I knew that we had a really good chance to do something special this year,” Chris said. “I knew we were going to be playing in a brand new ballpark, knew we were going to be practicing every day in a brand new facility, getting to play another year with my brother which is something awesome. Just thinking about those things, there really was no choice after thinking about those.”
The brothers both came to UConn after playing baseball for Amity. As captain, Chris helped lead the team to three straight CIAC state titles and two SCC championships. Pat lettered all four years with Amity and was named the 2018 GameTimeCT State Player of the Year, Gatorade Player of the Year and CHSCA 2108 Player of the Year. He was picked in the 31st round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, but chose to pursue collegiate baseball instead.
“Coming from such an awesome program and such an awesome coaching staff, Sal Coppola, and kinda a winning tradition there … the way they go about their business is college like, so going through the Amity baseball program gives you a taste of what is going to be expected at the next level,” Chris said. “I feel like me and Pat when we got here, we knew what to expect and that was a big step up.”
In his three and a quarter seasons with the Huskies, Chris has started 176 of the 192 games he’s played in. He’s batted .260, scored 86 runs, and compiled 167 hits, 34 doubles, 10 triples, seven home runs and 97 RBIs. In the brief 2020 season, he led the Huskies with five stolen bases after being named a part of the All-Tournament team at the NCAA’s Oklahoma City Regional and the All-Tournament team at American Athletic Conference Championships in 2019.
The 2021 season marks his third straight selected as a captain for the team.
“He is just so well equipped with the knowledge of our program,” sophomore outfielder Kyler Fedko said. “He has been here for so long that he has everything just down to a ‘T’ so it’s almost like he’s a player but at the same time, he’s almost like a mentor, like a coach.”
As a freshman in 2019, Pat played in 49 games, starting 45 of them. In his 173 at-bats, he batted .318, scored 19 runs, and had 55 hits, eight doubles, 38 RBIs and a team-leading seven home runs. He was named to the NCAA Oklahoma City Regional All-Tournament Team and the Second Team ABCA All-Region.
He sat out the 2020 season due to Tommy John surgery in the winter of 2019. On Wednesday, Pat said he had successfully completed his rehab in the fall. UConn coach Jim Penters said Pat will do the “bulk” of the catching, while also helping out in the designated hitter role as well.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “I think we have something really special this year and being able to be back in the lineup to help is a dream come true. I’m extremely excited to be back and I think we’re going to do really good things.”
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