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Cut as a sophomore at Haverhill,
Penney turning golden for Post 4

By Dave Dyer | ddyer@eagletribune.com

HSB Grads
Photo courtesy of Nico Dyer
Haverhill's Josh Penney would have a tough time choosing between his two passions, baseball and fishing.

There are surely more talented players on the Haverhill Post 4 American Legion baseball team than Josh Penney, but there may be no better role model.

If you're looking for someone who never gives up, is always working to improve and has a team-first attitude, you need look no further than Penney,
a home schooled student who will be classified as a senior next year. He played on the Haverhill freshman team two years ago but was far from impressive,
being kept on the squad partly because of low numbers. He tried out as a sophomore but got cut, instead playing with Bradford Christian.

Undeterred, Penney tried out for Haverhill this year and was assigned to the junior varsity team, where he played in every inning as the starting shortstop.
Hillies' JV coach Ryan Ricci noticed a big difference since he tried out a year earlier. "Josh was a completely different player when he came back," said Ricci.
"His fielding was superb. He got to the ball better, his arm strength was improved, his hands were soft. "It was amazing. He was the most sure-handed
player in our whole program. I can't remember him making many errors at all."

Photo courtesy of Tracey Geary
When not on the mound, Haverhill's Josh Penney is a sure-handed infielder for the Haverhill Legion Post 4 team.

Offensively, Penney is not an overpowering hitter, but he's not a sure out, either. And he was someone Ricci could rely on. "He always put the ball in play
and I could always count on him for situational hitting. If I needed a bunt or a ball hit to the right side, he came through for me. "I couldn't have been happier with him.
He's a great story of not giving up when you don't succeed at first.

Most kids would be down and out if they got cut, but he was determined to come back." And just how did Penney improve so much in one year.
It's a simple, if not so common story of working at it. "Just a lot of repetition," said Penney. "I'd throw a tennis ball off the porch steps to myself, I took a ton of grounders,
I used a pitch-back we have in the backyard and I learned to relax." Still, while thrilled to get so much playing time for the JV team, Penney's real goal was
to make the Senior Legion team after playing Junior Legion ball last year. It was no sure thing. "I was hopeful," said Penney, who has a passion for baseball like few others.
"I figured I had a chance but I didn't know."

Photo courtesy of Tracey Geary
Haverhill's Josh Penney strides forward with the pitch for the Haverhill Legion Post 4 baseball team.

Here is where the story gets interesting. Haverhill Legion Post 4 co-coaches Larry O'Brien and John Trask liked enough of what they saw of Penney to put him on the roster,
but they weren't expecting much. "Josh is not a great player, but he's a steady player," said O'Brien. "We have an 18-man roster. I would rank him at 15 or 16."
But that number is going down. For one thing, Penney has been a reliable reserve as a middle infielder but, more important, he has been a stunning addition to the pitching staff.
With very little experience on the mound, other than in fall ball, Penney was called upon in relief rather early in the season. "Coach (Trask) came to the mound and said
'Penney, get in here,' " said Penney. "I wasn't expecting it. I was shocked." After awhile, O'Brien and Trask were shocked as well. Also a pitching coach for Haverhill High
and previously for Fisher College, Trask was mainly looking at Penney as an "innings eater," someone who could help rest the arms of talented pitchers like Whittier grad Will Carpenter
and Haverhill High's Bryan Carter.

Photo courtesy of Tracey Geary
Haverhill's Josh Penney rears back to pitch for the Post 4 Legion team.
Penney doesn't throw particularly hard but he does throw strikes and has an ERA of 2.70.


But he has been far more than that. Entering the week, Penney had a 3-1 record on the mound with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 11 and walking just two in 20 innings.
"We're amazed at how he's pitching," said O'Brien. "He doesn't throw hard enough to break a pane of glass,
but he throws strikes and we're making the plays behind him." In fact, Penney almost always throws a first-pitch strike and, at last count,
had thrown just 69 balls in 20 innings compared to 157 strikes. "You can do a lot when you throw strikes," said Trask. Penney admits that he's surprised
by his success on the mound, particularly since he has few pitches in his repertoire. "I'm working on a curve but basically I just throw a two-seam and four-seam (fast ball)," he said.
However he's getting the job done, it's turned the summer into a tremendously pleasurably one for Penney.

In addition to the baseball, which he partly enjoys for the social experience as a home schooler, he is getting in plenty of fishing, which is his other passion.
"I love both," said Penney. "I've been playing baseball during the day and fishing at night. I'd have a hard time choosing which I like doing more."
There is one difference between the two, however. To be successful, fishing takes a little more luck whereas baseball requires more focus and hard work.
That's something that Penney knows all about and is hopeful will lift him onto the varsity next year.

Photo courtesy of Nico Dyer
When not playing baseball, Haverhill's Josh Penney is an avid fisherman.
This spring, he assisted a 93-year-old, whose final wish was to go fishing one last time.


Helping out Hospice resident

Anyone who has met Haverhill's Josh Penney recognizes his passion for baseball and fishing and also that he's generally a nice young man
who thinks of others. In the spring, when he found out from Alison Colby-Campbell that her 93-year-old father, Walter Colby, was in hospice but wanted to go fishing one more time,
he sprung to action to help make it happen. Since Colby had given all his gear away, he needed to borrow some. Penney lent him his rod and some tackle and then cast the rod.
When Colby latched onto a fish, Penney reeled it in and placed it in the veteran's hands, bringing a big smile onto his face. "The happiness on his face was just palpable,"
wrote Colby-Campbell, who writes for The Heartbeat of Haverhill. "He said 'You know Al, it's been such a good day. I feel very lucky.' "
And by combining one of his passions with general good kindness, Penney helped bring it about. "It was a pretty cool thing," said Penney,
who was interviewed by a Boston TV station days later.

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