Thursday, September 10, 2015

Interview Part 2: Darwin Pennye, Starting Lineup

Darwin Pennye playing for AA Harrisburg. He played for Harrisburg twice, once in 1989 and once in 1992. (Photo Provided)
Part 1: Better Position | Part 2: Starting Lineup
Part 3: Time Limit | Part 4: Life Lessons


Darwin Pennye was confident in his abilities when he arrived in Watertown, NY, in 1988. That confidence took the form of a declaration for his new manager Stan Cliburn, Pennye recalled recently.

"I said to him, 'If you ever put me in the starting lineup, you'll never get me out,'" Pennye recalled.

Pennye made it into the lineup and he made Cliburn a believer. Pennye went on to hit .314 for the short-season Pirates. He also stole 22 bases and made the All-Star team.

Pennye went on to play for Cliburn teams over parts of the next two seasons, including most of 1990 at high-A Salem. That 1990 season at Salem also saw Pennye make the Carolina League All-Star team

"A lot of the success I had in the Pirates organization," Pennye said, "was because of the belief that Stan had in me."

"If you look at any time that Stan managed me, I had a lot of offensive success," Pennye said.

Pennye went on to play five seasons as a pro. He couldn't take that offensive success to the majors, but he did make AA. He's also gone on to have success in other, more important ways.

He's gone on to be a youth coach and athletic director at Christian schools in his home state of Texas. Pennye spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently from his Houston-area office at Logos Preparatory Academy where he began work in summer 2015 as athletic director.
Darwin Pennye, left, and his former manager Stan Cliburn before a Sugar Land Skeeters game. (Photo Provided)
Pennye's professional career began in 1988, taken by the Pirates in the 37th round of the draft out of Southwest Texas State.

Pennye recalled his initial goal after being drafted was to bypass the rookie Gulf Coast League. The GCL played all day games. The New York-Penn League played night games, as well as players from larger college programs.

"Here I was, this guy from little Southwest Texas," Pennye said. "For me to go out there and have the success I had that first year was a big deal."

He also had that success in the basic transition from college to the pros, from aluminum bats to wood bats.

"But I didn't feel intimidated," Pennye said. "To me, it was still the same baseball I'd been playing since I was a little kid. You put the ball in play, you run hard, you step on a base and you turn left."

Having his manager convinced in those first years was important, Pennye said. Cliburn knew Pennye had had success. Pennye knew he could stay in the lineup if he struggled.

Pennye knew he was going to be there because of the belief Cliburn had in him.
Darwin Pennye with the Watertown Pirates in 1988. (Photo Provided)
"It made the first two-and-a-half years that I had in the minor leagues just a fun time," Pennye said, "because I thought he was a fair manager at how he went about his day-to-day approach. He really showed you how to be a professional."

Pennye played his second season between single-A Salem and single-A Augusta. He hit .281 between the two levels. He hit six home runs and knocked in 62 runs. He also had 157 that year, the same number, he noted as Moises Alou had between Salem and AA Harrisburg.

He played most of that year at Salem under manager Rocky Bridges. He recalled Bridges offering a wealth of experience. He also played 27 games at Augusta, where Cliburn managed that year.

Pennye recalled the Carolina League that year had some top players and Pennye held his own.

"To be among that competition, I felt pretty good about myself in the fact that I could play with major league caliber players," Pennye said.

Pennye played 1990 back at Salem, save for three weeks at the end of the season when he made AA Harrisburg. He recalled being a little disappointed at not making Harrisburg to start the season, but he still put together a solid year at Salem, again under Cliburn.

Pennye hit .284 at Salem and he earned that late-season promotion to Harrisburg. He got into 11 games at Harrisburg over three weeks. He'd made AA, but he also wasn't an everyday player. He got five hits in 32 at bats.
Darwin Pennye with AA Carolina in 1991. (Photo Provided)
"That was a big adjustment for me because I had been a guy over the first part of my career who had been an everyday player," Pennye said. "It just put me in a position where I was going to be a late-inning defensive replacement or whatever the manager asked me to do."

He then returned to his starting role in 1991 at AA Carolina. He also realized he had made the biggest jump - from single-A to AA. He recalled starting off slow at Carolina, but got hot by mid-May. He even got to thinking about making AAA, but he ended up staying for the full season.

The biggest thing he remembers about the Southern League is the travel. He called it brutal.

"It's a tough league to play in when your shortest bus trip is four-and-a-half hours. "I didn't realize how taxing that can be on your body."

But he also said it was still a great opportunity to show that he could play. He recalled leading the team in extra-base hits, though he had the lowest batting average of his career at .257.

There was another adjustment that year, too. He transitioned to the lead-off spot. He'd never been a lead-off hitter before. He'd always been a 2- or 3-hitter. "I had to learn how to take some more pitches," Pennye said.

Pennye had to deal with a few more adjustments for 1992. He found himself with a new team the next spring, the Cubs. The next April, he was with another, the Expos. By the end of the 1992 season, he had to deal with one final adjustment, the end of his playing career. (Go to Part 3)

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

Go to Part 3: Darwin Pennye, Time Limit

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