Jim Penders, head coach and leader of UConn Baseball, has quite a storied career with the Huskies. A former player and assistant, he was named head coach in 2004 and in that time produced numerous professionals, as well as future coaches. The impact he has had on them, and the program, is profound. Several of them were willing to make time to share their most memorable anecdote from their time with Penders with Matt Barresi of The Daily Campus.
Justin Blood, Head Coach of Hartford Baseball, former UConn Pitching Coach and Recruiting Coordinator:
In my first season with UConn we were picked to finish 9th in the Big East. We exceeded the expectations of those outside the program and finished 2nd in the regular season. Coach Penders was recognized by his peers in the conference and presented the 2006 Coach of the Year award. After the banquet Jim walked the team down to a canal near the hotel, and after a rousing speech about a lack of respect for the program and how this award meant nothing, he threw the trophy in the water.
That’s a good story in its own right, but in 2011 Jim received the same recognition for the third time in his career. He decided once again to make a statement to the team and had our bus driver stop on the way out of Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL and threw the award into a shallow waterway.
This time someone other than our team and staff must have seen the trophy fly out of the bus doorway and splash into the water. The next day our program administrator, Evan Feinglass, came to Assistant Coach Steve Malinowski and said that someone from the Big East had “found” the trophy and wanted to return it. We never returned it to Jim fearing he would ditch it again. To this day it’s sits safely in Steve’s garage as a reminder of one of Jim’s many redeeming qualities. It’s never about the individual, it’s always about the program as a whole and how he can best rally the troops to accomplish a goal.
Carson Cross, Affiliate Development Coach for the Milwaukee Brewers, UConn Pitcher 2010-2015:
Every year before we would head home for Thanksgiving break we would have some sort of team competition or challenge. The last event usually took place a top cemetery hill. For me, this went from a dreaded hill sprint as a freshman to one of my favorite places on campus by the end of my first year.
The reason for this… Coach Penders.
He would have us finish our work week before break a top the hill. He would explain to us why UConn was founded by the Storrs brothers as we all huddled around their gravestone overlooking the North side of campus. For a group of 35 guys from all parts of the country, it was a chance for us to feel as if we shared a home. All of us breathing heavily as a family, the UConn Baseball Family. The program is truly a family and I cannot thank Coach Penders enough for the chance to be a part of it.
I ventured back to the top of the hill many times after that first day. I would find myself there on hard days and remind myself how lucky I was to be a part of something bigger than myself.
Steve Malinowski, Associate Head Coach, Hartford, UConn student athlete 2005-2006, Assistant Coach 2007, 2009-2011:
Looking back, my story about Coach Penders dates back to when he was an assistant during my recruiting trip to UConn in 2001. Part of the visit included a tour around campus as the team finished practice. As we began our walk it started to drizzle which turned quickly into a steady downpour. Armed with a couple umbrellas we navigated our way through campus trying to stay as dry as possible. From South Campus to Wilbur Cross there isn’t much cover. I remember being soaked listening to Coach point out every detail of the buildings and the history. He never stopped just kept on pushing forward. The bad weather was an obstacle that wasn’t going to prevent him from reaching the goal of showing off campus. For me, this is why the program has continued to reach new heights under his leadership. Coach never stops, he never lets down. He is always focused on the goals in front of him.
Kevin Vance, Pitching Coach, URI, UConn Pitcher 2009-2011:
I have a bunch of small stories, but his greatest strength is how much he prepares you for life. Two general concepts that stick out the most: Accountability and attention to detail. Whether that’s attention to the details of the swing or the detail of being on time properly dressed, he taught us to hold ourselves and each other accountable to those details. That prepared me to play at my best and prepared me for life.
My freshman year we lost in the championship game of the Big East Tournament. We all sat in the locker room with our heads down knowing our season was over. Coach addressed the team and went through each departing senior and what they meant to the program. He made me cry like a little boy listening to what he said about them. I never took another day for granted wearing that uniform after hearing that speech. He is an incredible speaker. I’ll admit, he made me cry at the end of every season.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.