Editor’s note: This profile on Steve Pignato ’97 is the 10th in a 13-part series by Valerie Turgeon ’13 on the alumni who will be inducted into the St. Thomas Athletic Hall of Fame on Sept. 19. Read a new profile every day in tommiesports.com.
Steve Pignato ’97 started playing baseball, he remembers, as soon as he could walk. It’s a game that has been part of his life ever since then and a game at which he is very good.
When he played for St. Thomas, Pignato’s teams posted a 101-27 record in his final three seasons and he broke school records that he holds to this day. He ranks first at UST in batting average for four-year players, .402; doubles, 42; home runs, 29; RBI, 169; walks, 62; and triples, nine. He is in the top 10 in the MIAC in career hits with 208, was a rare four-time All-MIAC honoree and an All-American.
Pignato was a sophomore when Dennis Denning was hired as coach in 1995 and the program made a dramatic upgrade. The Tommies won back-to-back MIAC crowns in 1996 and 1997, their first repeat titles since 1982-1983, and advanced to three consecutive NCAA playoffs. Pignato said his greatest contribution was to help “get St. Thomas back into the MIAC (spotlight) and get national attention.”
If not for future teammates at the Lions All-Star High School Tournament when he was in high school, Pignato may have never worn purple on the field.
“I met my best friend Tony Fisher there and he and a couple other players were going to St. Thomas,” he said. “I had interest in St. Thomas prior to that, as my sister was going there, and I liked what the university had to offer. I decided at the end of that tournament that I would attend St. Thomas.”
The spring trip the team took to Florida in his junior year gave impetus to an impressive season for Pignato and the team.
“We won some memorable games during that spring trip,” he said. “I am not sure what our team stats were from that trip but they were pretty unbelievable and we continued that through the MIAC season, going 19-1. I think we had maybe the best overall winning percentage in Division III that year. We lost in the finals of the regional, but it was a great ride.”
Baseball continues to be part of Pignato’s life. He was assistant coach at North St. Paul High School in 2005-2009 and head coach from 2009 to 2011. He helps coach in local Babe Ruth leagues and still plays in an over-35 men’s league.
He is a senior casualty claims adjuster for American Family Insurance in Eden Prairie and married to Tracy. They have a 13-month-old daughter, Ashlyn.
Pignato is thankful for the support of his parents, Bob and Sandy, who missed only one doubleheader during his four years at St. Thomas. He also thanked his coaches – Steve Schmid, Jim McDonald, Dennis Denning, Huck Shields and Don Roney – and Fisher, his best friend and teammate for three years.
“It is a great honor to be chosen as one of the best athletes to have played at St. Thomas,” Pignato said. “The school as a rich tradition in athletics and has many other great athletes who are in the Hall of Fame or yet to make the Hall of Fame. It also shows the great teammates and coaches who played with me during that time and helped me get to this position."
Jake Barkley 2003 Football
Nikki Conway 2006 Softball
Roman Cress 2003 Track & Field
Carrie Embree 2007 Softball, Basketball
Jane Gibbs-Becker 2004 Volleyball
Kristal Grigsby 2006 Track & Field
Andrew Hilliard 2003 Track & Field, Football
Diane Loughlin Urick 1989 Track & Field, Cross Country
Janet Nagle 2006 Softball
Steve Pignato 1997 Baseball
Isaac Rosefelt 2007 Basketball
Tessie Thompson 2003 Soccer
Michelle Wong 2005 Softball