He’s a local kid who would rather shoot the three. “I loved playing basketball, but being less than six feet tall, I knew my chances were better in baseball,” he said. A fine looking kid with a built in fire to get the job done; he was just one of the many hardball jewels that had been dug up and polished in the Sparkling City by the Sea. Players like him are part of the reason the Coastal Bend is listed as one of the richest areas for baseball talent in America. Major League players like Nolan Ryan, Bart Shirley, Doug Drabek, Ron Gant, Burt Hooten, Rocky Bridges, Bobby Cuellar, fellow Carroll graduate Brooks Kieschnick, and Jessie Garcia are just a few of the many that came before him. Current players like Mark Williamson, Mike Gonzales, Mark Blackmar, David Freese, and Mike Adams, now take their turn in the professional baseball ranks.
This fellow is an infielder with a slingshot right arm and the grit to turn it loose. Only two things scared him, losing and not winning. Carroll Head Coach Lee Yeager dreamed of athletes like Cliff. “He was the kind of player that made you want to coach,” said Yeager. Cliff Pennington Jr. graduated from Mary Carroll High School while a scholarship to Texas A&M awaited his signature. His junior year as an Aggie would find him batting .363 while scouts began to take notice. Cliff Pennington was a grinder and the only thing faster than his bat speed was his feet. His middle name should have been “triples” instead of Randolph; the kid could outrun raindrops. The scouting reports listed him as patient at the plate, fast, athletic, good glove, an everyday shortstop with upside. Pennington was drafted in the 1st round of the 2005 MLB draft by the Oakland A’s. By 2008, at the age of 24, he made his big league debut. Dreams really do come true.
Cliff Pennington joined me and my longtime partner, Dennis Quinn on the radio, Tuesday night, November 20, 2012, on “Dennis & Andy’s Q & A Session,” broadcast weekly on ESPN 1440 KEYS. Pennington, now in his fifth year, was the starting shortstop for the 2012 American League Western Division champion Oakland Athletes. “No one saw us coming.” said Cliff. “I know people say it all the time, but we really just focused on ourselves and tried to get better every day.” Oakland finished September and the first week of October with a 20-11 win-loss record, by sweeping the vaunted Texas Rangers out of first place and into a wild-card spot. “When it became clear that we could win the division with a sweep of the Rangers, things got fun. Our pitching staff, especially the bullpen, was incredible,” said Cliff. “Bob Melvin, the 2012 American League Manager of the Year, made all the right decisions by placing everyone on that pitching staff in a position to be successful.” The Oakland A’s, along with the Baltimore Orioles, would produce the best stories of the year in baseball. When we asked Cliff about the movie “Moneyball” and what kind of liberties Hollywood may have taken with the story, his response was interesting. “Well that 20-game win streak in Oakland happened before I got there, but some of the core beliefs are still in place. We place a lot of emphasis on on-base percentage, and getting outs instead of batting average and stolen bases. A walk and a double will yield the same result as three singles, a run scored,” exclaimed Pennington. “As for General Manager Billy Beane, I understand that he still does not watch the games. He works out or finds something else to do and gets the results by phone. He’s a pretty intense guy.”
The Oakland Athletics, with the 29th lowest payroll in the Majors and the co-owner of the second best record in the American League at 94-68, earned the right to meet Jim Leyland and his Detroit Tigers. Although Oakland pitched and played well, they fell to the Tigers three games to two in the playoffs and their season was over.
“How did you find out you were traded and how did you react?” I asked. “I was at a Texas A&M football game and I could not hear my cell phone ring. My agent had called several times and finally texted me to call him right away, I had been traded. For the next several minutes, as I tried to make my way out of the stands to a place where my cell would work, my mind was racing. I had been traded and did not know where. When he told me Arizona, I immediately thought about the results we had when we played them in interleague that season. We went into Phoenix with an eight game win streak, and they swept us. We left and started another eight-game win streak. You are always concerned when you’re traded, but I knew this was a good team,” said Pennington. “Then I thought about how much better it would be to hit at Chase Field, it’s a bigger park, and I love National League pitching.” We enjoyed our twenty minutes with Cliff and wished him well. I think Cliff has this figured out, and we hope his dream continues.
Coach Lee Yeager had told me in advance that there was a possibility that Cliff Pennington may have his high school number retired. Yeager made me promise not to tell Cliff. I kept my promise. It has just been announced that Cliff Pennington’s #7 will be retired by Mary Carroll High School on February 2, 2013. The ceremony will include an autograph signing by Cliff as well as other events. Stay tuned to your local sports broadcast for further information. Congratulations Cliff from your friends at ESPN Corpus. That’s one dream down and several more to go.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.