Baseball: Huskies make a name for themselves in the playoffs

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Jim Penders has played an integral role in helping to build the UConn baseball program into a powerhouse. He said that he hopes the program will continue to grow.

File Photo/The Daily Campus

If you watched any part of the 2018 MLB Playoffs, you may have noticed a Husky or two—or three. This is the second consecutive year that a former UConn baseball player excelled on baseball’s highest stage.

“It was a lot of fun watching them all year and especially in the postseason,” UConn head coach Jim Penders said. “Scott Oberg has earned the respect of Denver in a big way because he was one of their most relied-upon guys all year.”

Oberg was electric for the Rockies this season with a 2.45 ERA and an 8-1 record. The Tewksbury native showcased an overpowering fastball and an elusive slider all year.

Last season, George Springer caught fire and the baseball world took notice. He won the World Series MVP while helping his team defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers. The new Mr. October followed that up with 11 postseason home runs this year. However, his team fell to the Boston Red Sox and his former teammate Matt Barnes.

“Seeing George and Matt go up against each other again,” Penders said. “It’s always a thrill for us to see that and they compete so hard and so well.”

While Penders said he doesn’t like to reminisce, sometimes it is hard not to. One of those moments was when Springer was at bat and the pitcher was Barnes. Not only were they a huge part of the baseball program on the field, but the two were roommates and best friends. Penders takes pride in knowing that his program helped them grow as players and people.

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It was a lot of fun watching them all year and especially in the postseason
— UConn baseball coach Jim Penders

During the season, Penders will occasionally text, talk and sometimes visit his old players, but he doesn’t want to be overbearing. He said that when he texts them to congratulate them on a good game, he deletes the text, so they do not feel obligated to text back. However, they always do.

Houston Astros’ Tony Kemp, middle, celebrates his home run with George Springer, right, and Carlos Correa against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning in Game 4 of a baseball American League Championship Series on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“I don’t need to be talking to them every day to know that UConn is still important to them,” Penders said. “They’ve all given back in different ways and I look forward to seeing them again.”

With his former players excelling in the big leagues, Penders has had a busy fall with media requests for interviews. He never turns them down because he wants to make sure that his message can perhaps reach a future recruit. While the added exposure has helped, it is not like UConn was an unknown program beforehand.

“When you produce one of the most dynamic outfielders in the league, people are going to take notice,” NBC Sports minor league baseball writer Christopher Crawford said in a statement. “Add in prospects like Anthony Kay and Tim Cate, and you have as good of (a) pro-producing program in the Northeast as there is right now.”

Despite the many success stories of his former players, Penders has made sure to keep moving forward.

“As coaches, the second you look in the rear-view mirror, you’re going to miss what’s coming up in the view of your windshield,” Penders said. “You better keep your eyes on the road.”


Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at michael.logan@uconn.edu.

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