Huskies Tuesday Practice at Bright House Field (photos by Stephen Slade)
Jim Penders has worked with the University of Connecticut baseball program in 24 of the last 26 years, being associated with the Huskies as a student-athlete, an assistant coach and now head coach. He completed his 12th season at the helm of the program in 2015. A three-time Big East Coach of the Year, Penders has overseen one of the most successful stretches in the 119-year history of UConn baseball.
Overall in his tenure, Penders holds a 417-295-4 record. He has led the Huskies to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Super Regional appearances in 2011. UConn has also won a regular season or conference title twice with Penders in the dugout and hosted the 2010 Norwich Regional. Under his watch, seven Huskies have earned All-America honors, most recently Carson Cross and Vinny Siena in 2015.
In 12 seasons as head coach for the Huskies, Penders has had a total of 41 players either drafted or signed by professional baseball clubs. During the 2015 MLB season a program-record five former Huskies played in the big leagues: Nick Ahmed ('11) of the Diamondbacks, Matt Barnes ('11) of the Red Sox, Scott Oberg ('12) of the Rockies, Mike Olt ('11) of the Cubs and George Springer ('11) of the Astros. Penders has led his squad to 30 or more wins in 10 of his 12 years at Connecticut.
Penders earned NEIBA New England Coach of the Year honors in 2015 as his squad went 35-25 and reached the semifinal round of the 2015 American Baseball Championship. Seven Huskies earned All-Conference accolades following the season, including American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year Carson Cross. Along with Siena, the NEIBA New England Player of the Year, Cross was named an ABCA/Rawlings Third-Team All-American following the season and also received All-America laurels from Louisville Slugger. Willy Yahn became UConn's first Freshman All-American since 2009 following the season with a Louisville Slugger nod.
In 2014, UConn struggled with injuries and youth and finished the year with a 27-31 record. The Huskies qualified for the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship, defeating eventual champion Houston in pool play. Despite the underwhelming record, several Huskies received major individual accolades. Bobby Melley was named NEIBA New England Player of the Year and was one of three All-Conference first team members.
Last season, the Huskies claimed their final BIG EAST Championship, defeating Notre Dame, 8-1, in Clearwater, Fla. UConn advanced to play in the NCAA tournament for the third time in the past four years. The BIG EAST title was the third in UConn history joining the 1990 and '94 teams. UConn defeated No. 1 seed Virginia Tech in its first game of the 2013 NCAA Regional hosted in Blacksburg, Va., before falling to Oklahoma and the Hokies in consecutive games. The Huskies finished the season with a 35-28 record.
In 2012, the Huskies' season ended in the BIG EAST Championship Semifinals with back-to-back losses to USF. UConn's overall record was 31-27-1.
In 2011, Penders guided the Huskies to the program's first regular-season BIG EAST championship title and first appearance in the NCAA Super Regionals. UConn finished the season with a 22-5 mark in conference play, and ended the year with a 45-20-1 overall record. Following their program-best 22 wins in conference play in 2011, the Huskies earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the 17th time, including their second straight appearance. As the No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional, UConn went 4-1 while eliminating all three opponents from NCAA Tournament play, including No. 1 seed Clemson.
During 2011, Penders coached 11 student-athletes to BIG EAST post season honors, including Pitcher of the Year Matt Barnes and Player of the Year George Springer. Three Huskies also earned All-America status under Penders that season, as Barnes and Springer were named first team All-Americans and Kevin Vance was named a second team All-American.
In the 2011 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, a program-best 10 Huskies were selected. George Springer (11th overall), and Matt Barnes (19th overall) were first-round selections of the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox respectively. Joining the two first-rounders were Nick Ahmed (2nd round pick of the Braves), John Andreoli (17th round pick of the Cubs), Greg Nappo (18th round pick of the Marlins), Kevin Vance (19th round pick of the White Sox), Mike Nemeth (21st round pick of the Brewers), Dave Fischer (30th round pick of the Giants), Doug Elliot (35th round pick of the Brewers), and Elliot Glynn (39th round pick of the Brewers).
The 2010 season was one of the most successful seasons in program history, as Penders guided the Huskies to a program-best 48 wins. After being nationally ranked for the first time since 1979, UConn earned an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time since 1994 and hosted the Norwich Regional at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Conn. Along with the team success, including a UConn-best 22-game win streak, Penders earned multiple coaching accolades as he was named BIG EAST, ECAC, and NEIBA Coach of the Year. He was also named the ABCA/Diamond Northeast Coach of the Year.
In 2009, Penders led the Huskies to a 36-24 overall record and an appearance in the BIG EAST Championship final against Louisville. Under Penders' guidance, George Springer became UConn's first-ever BIG EAST Rookie of the Year following the 2009 season.
During 2007, Penders and the Huskies earned a spot in the BIG EAST Championship game after battling their way through the BIG EAST Tournament by upsetting three higher-seeded teams. UConn's appearance in the title game as the eighth-seed marked the lowest seed in BIG EAST Tournament history to reach the final game. In addition, Penders guided the Huskies to their third straight season with 34 or more wins, as his 2006 and 2007 squads ended the year with 39 and 34 victories respectively.
After the 2006 season, a year in which the Huskies went 39-18-1, Penders led his program to a second place finish in the BIG EAST and earned BIG EAST Coach of the Year, and NEIBA Coach of the Year honors, while his team was named the NEIBA Team of the Year. In July of 2003, Penders became just the fifth head coach in the program's history since 1924 joining Sumner Dole (1924-35), J.O. Christian (1936-61), Larry Panciera (1962-79) and Andy Baylock (1980-2003).
Penders was an assistant coach for the Huskies for seven years from 1997-2003 as UConn posted winning seasons in each of those campaigns. As an assistant coach, Penders coordinated the Huskies recruiting of student-athletes, served as a hitting coach and worked with the catchers and outfielders.
A standout on the baseball field for Connecticut during his undergraduate career, Penders was a four-year letterwinner as a Husky. He was co-captain of the 1994 UConn squad that won the BIG EAST Conference tournament, and the Huskies advanced to the NCAA Championship in both his junior and senior years. He hit .354 with seven home runs and 46 runs batted in as a senior in 1994. He earned First Team All-Northeast, All-New England and All-BIG EAST honors in his senior year as a catcher.
During his UConn career, the Huskies played in the Championship game of the BIG EAST Tournament three times. Penders helped the Huskies to 99 wins over his four seasons, including a 30-18 record in 1994. He also excelled in the classroom as a three-time BIG EAST Academic All-Star. Penders was a four-year member of the UConn Captains' Council and served as that group's president during his senior year.
Penders graduated from UConn in 1994 with a degree in political science and added a master's degree from UConn in 1998 from the School of Education.
Penders worked in Washington, D.C., from 1994-96 as a political fundraiser for U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Penders returned to UConn for the 1997 season as a graduate assistant baseball coach and became a fulltime assistant coach for the 1999 season. He also founded and directs the Connecticut Baseball School. The popular camp holds sessions during the summer and winter vacation periods, along with a one-day fall session in October every year.
The connection between the Penders family and UConn athletics runs deep. Penders' father, Jim, and uncle, Tom, both graduated from UConn and played on the Huskies' 1965 College World Series team. Jim is a 1966 UConn graduate and recently retired as the baseball coach at East Catholic High School. He won 600 games in 43 seasons and coached his three sons. He was an infielder for the Huskies and had a career batting average of .279, including a .323 mark his senior year. He was a captain of the '65 squad and the only player to hit over .300 for the Huskies that season. Jim has won four Connecticut high school state championships at East Catholic and was named the national high school coach of the year in 1996. In the summer of 2008 he was inducted into the National High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and in June of 2009, the baseball field at East Catholic was named in his honor.
Tom, a 1967 UConn graduate, was the head men's basketball coach at Tufts (1971-74), Columbia (1974-78), Fordham (1978-86), Rhode Island (1986-88), Texas (1988-89), George Washington (1998-2000) and Houston (2004-10). Tom was a two-sport star at UConn in baseball and basketball as he played in two NCAA tournaments (1965 and 1967) and the 1965 College World Series. Penders' extended family also includes a prominent former Husky.
His former classmate, teammate, battery-mate and 1994 Lawrence R. Panciera Most Valuable Player, Aaron Quinn, is now his brother-in-law. Quinn pitched for the Huskies from 1991-94 and married Penders' sister-in-law, Courtney in 1999. Penders' younger brother Rob is the head coach of Division II St. Edward's University of Austin, Texas. His grandfather Jim was the longtime baseball coach at Stratford (Conn.) High School from 1931-68 and won four state championships, a record matched by Penders' father at East Catholic. He was also the head of the physical education department and the town's recreation director. The Stratford High School baseball and football complex is named in his honor. Penders is also actively involved with several baseball clinics around the globe as he has presented as a featured clinician in Regensburg, Germany to German baseball coaches for International Sports Group/Major League Baseball International.
In addition to Germany, in January of 2008, he ventured overseas to instruct Swedish coaches in a three-day national clinic in Leksand, Sweden. In January of 2009, he flew to the Czech Republic for more presentations. Penders has also spent several years working at the World Baseball Convention in Uncasville, Conn., the Be The Best You Are Clinic in Cherry Hill, N.J., as well as conducting a catching clinic at the ABCA National Convention in Nashville, Tenn. in 2004. He presented again at the ABCA National Convention in Anaheim in January of 2012.
In addition, Penders contributed a chapter in the published book, Gold Glove Baseball, in which he dissects catching techniques.
A native of Vernon, Conn., Penders was an all-state performer in baseball at East Catholic High School and served as his senior class president. In 2011, he was inducted into the ECHS Hall of Fame.
A daily runner, Penders completed his first marathon in Philadelphia in November 2011. Penders and his wife, Brooke, reside in Old Wethersfield, Conn., and have three children - a daughter, Tess Avery (12), and sons, James Henry "Hank" (10), and Charles Edward "Charlie" (6).