Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Interview Part 1: Darwin Pennye, Better Position

Darwin Pennye played five seasons as a pro, parts of two of them at AA in Harrisburg. Photo is of Harrisburg's Metro Bank Park in 2013. (Greatest 21 Days)
Part 1: Better Position | Part 2: Starting Lineup
Part 3: Time Limit | Part 4: Life Lessons

By the time the 1987 draft came around, Darwin Pennye was confident he'd be selected, he recalled recently.

He'd gotten hurt right before the draft, but that came after a season with Southwest Texas State where he'd hit .419.

"It wasn't about not getting drafted," Pennye recalled of his expectations that June, "it was about whether to sign or not."

The draft came and went. Pennye wasn't selected. It was a let down, Pennye recalled, but it also led to better things.

It led him to meeting his future wife. He met her that summer as he returned to school. It also gave him the opportunity to show that junior season was no fluke.

"I went back out and I decided there were things I needed to do to put myself in a better position to get drafted," Pennye said. "I worked hard to shore up every little area in my game. I wanted to be a little bit faster. I wanted to be a little bit stronger. I wanted to be a little bit better defensively than I had been the year before."

Pennye succeeded. The Pirates took notice and took Pennye in the 37th round of the 1988 draft. He went on from there to a career that spanned five seasons. He made it to AA, but he couldn't make it higher.

Pennye has gone on to a post-playing career as a coach. He first served briefly in the minors. He's since found his calling as a Christian school coach and athletic director, teaching lessons of faith and determination to youth in his home state of Texas. He's coached baseball, football and other sports.
Darwin Pennye talking to his team at Bay Area Christian School. Pennye served there as athletic director and baseball coach from 2004 to 2015. (Photo Provided)
Pennye spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently from his Houston-area office at Logos Preparatory Academy. Pennye began work at Logos in summer 2015 as the school's athletic director.

He covered his professional playing career from his first professional stop in Watertown, NY, to his last in Harrisburg, Pa. He realized he was playing the same game he'd always played. He realized at Harrisburg that his dream of making the majors was over.

Pennye's path to the pros began in Temple, Texas, playing catch with his father. One of his earliest baseball memories is of playing catch with his father, he said.

Pennye was maybe 4 years old and his father John Pennye decided the son was catching the ball well enough that he'd put a little extra on a throw. The result was an injury that wasn't really an injury, but for a 4-year-old might have been career-ending.

"I missed it and it hit me," Pennye recalled, "and 15 minutes later I was like 'Hey, it stopped hurting, I'm ready to go.' My father said he knew that day I was going to be a ball player."

Pennye recalled excelling in baseball as he grew up, but he also had to wait his turn. He didn't make the varsity team full time until his senior year in high school. College is where his game really took off.

His love for the game came from his father, Pennye recalled. His father was his coach for much of his youth. His older brother was a big influence, too. Pennye wanted to play sports just to tag along with him.

Pennye would be a bat boy or a ball boy whenever he could. He was a Reds fan and looked up to the major leaguers. Baseball was also his connection with his dad.
A young Darwin Pennye, left, with his father John Pennye. (Photo Provided)
"It was the thing that brought my dad and I together. It was always a big time for us during either the All-Star Game or the World Series were just big moments for us. Even into my professional career, I'd call home and we'd talk about the game. It was a big deal.

"I still think about that today," Pennye said. "My father's been passed away for 15 years. Still, I think about him a lot, but especially at the All-Star Game or the World Series."

His father's work coaching the kids of Temple was honored with a Little League field named in his father's honor. "He played not only a huge role in my life and influence on my baseball career, but just the life of so many kids in the neighborhood," Pennye said.

Pennye's path through college included multiple stops, but he started at each. His first stop was Harding University in Arkansas. He played that first year but the spring sports scholarships then ended and he moved back to Texas and Blinn College in Brenham.

His move to Southwest Texas for his junior year came almost by accident, he recalled. An assistant coach there stopped by a game. A few days later, the coach was at Pennye's door with a scholarship offer.

"It seemed like everything came into place when I went to Southwest Texas," Pennye recalled. "I felt like really for he first time in a long time in my baseball career that I had somebody that just allowed me to play and be openly expressive and just utilize the gifts that I had."

Those gifts showed on the field at Southwest Texas. He got that .419 average his junior year, stopped only by that injury. He then came back from that injury and the disappointment of not being drafted to hit .398. He was also among the conference leaders in runs scored, RBIs and other categories, he recalled.
Darwin Pennye with Southwest Texas State. (Photo Provided)
When it came time for draft day after his senior campaign, Pennye had heard from two or three teams that expressed interest in drafting him if they got the chance.

All along in college he had heard from scouts at one point or another, but there was never anything definite. He transitioned along the way from a middle infielder to an outfielder.

None of the teams that said they'd draft Pennye drafted him. The Pirates took him. He hadn't heard from them, he recalled, since that previous February. They took him in the 37th round.

The round he was selected in was still a bit disappointing, Pennye recalled. But whatever team that took him and wherever he was drafted, he looked at it as an opportunity to play pro ball.

"I figured at this point I've been proving myself at every level I've been at," Pennye said. "I wasn't one of the guys who had it handed to them ever since day one. I always had to prove myself. It was a thing that kept me motivated, kept me hungry and never complacent."

With that, Pennye was off to the pros.

"I was just thankful for the opportunity and I just wanted to go in to my mini-camp and show them what I could do." (Go to Part 2)

Part 1: Better Position | Part 2: Starting Lineup
Part 3: Time Limit | Part 4: Life Lessons

Go to Part 2: Darwin Pennye, Starting Lineup

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