Since 1936, UConn baseball has had four coaches: J.O. Christian, whose name is on the Huskies’ home field, was at the helm from 1936-1961. Larry Panciera followed him up until 1979 and Andy Baylock took over between 1980 and 2003 before handing the reigns to Jim Penders. Each of the four men have won more games than they lost and each have emerged victorious from at least 250 contests, with Baylock holding the record at 556 wins.
That is, until Thursday.
After Penders’ squad took home a 8-5 victory over Tulane, he earned his 557th career win to pass his predecessor.
“I’ll never be able to tie or beat Coach Baylock in the amount of lives that he’s touched in a positive manner,” Penders said after tying the record vs. URI. “He’s a mentor, a friend. I’m not standing here without Andy Baylock.
“He’s an inspiration to me.”
Baylock coached Penders when he was at UConn, playing from 1991-94. The 1993 and 1994 Huskies made the NCAA Tournament, including a Big EAST championship in 1994. He was an All-Big East selection his senior year as well.
After using his political science degree for a couple of years, Penders returned to Storrs as a graduate assistant and was promoted to a full-time assistant in 1999.
Since then, Penders has been focused solely on baseball.
“[Tying Baylock is] so far out of my frame of reference right now. It’s about winning Thursday right now,” Penders said. “I’ll take some time in the summer, for sure, away from the recruiting trail somewhere on a beach and think ‘Hey this is pretty cool’, but now is not the time for that.”
Sometimes those quotes can be lip service. Saying you’re not thinking about it and you’re not considering it is the right thing to say, but it’s not always true. However, his players can corroborate his dedication to the task at hand, worrying about everything that doesn’t involve winning the next game on the schedule after the season.
Some of the players were aware of Penders’ win totals, while others were not so clued in.
“I could not be happier for Coach,” senior captain John Toppa said. “Nobody in college baseball deserves it more. He deserves every milestone, every award that comes his way. The fact that some guys didn’t know tells you everything you need to know about Coach. He’s never going to go out of his way to say ‘I’m close to this milestone’.
“He’s always focused on winning games.”
It’s a method that has served him well. Since Penders took over as head coach, his teams have made five NCAA Tournaments, all of which have come since 2010. That includes hosting the Norwich regional in 2010 and a Super Regional berth the following year.
Penders’ looks to further distance himself in first on Saturday when the Huskies take on Tulane in game two of the series.