By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Being a student of the game has allowed Tipton-Rosemark Academy product Xen Penny to be a teacher of the game.
On Nov. 29, Penny got the call from Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks to be a part of hitting coach staff. After a successful preps career with the Rebels, achievements in college baseball and years of building contacts, Penny landed his dream position.
After graduating from TRA in 2014, Penny embarked on his collegiate career. With the Rebels Penny was a part of two State Tournament qualifying teams. Then on the college level Penny played at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa.
He was an All-Conference honorable mention. His next stop was at Roane State Community College where Penny had one of the top batting averages in the nation winning the team MVP award. Although he was getting interest from the Big League as a player, Penny had his mind focused on the technical and developmental sides of the game. It was his senior season at Rosemark Penny started having thoughts of coaching on the professional level. To put his pursuit in motion, Penny started sharing his knowledge of hitting online and through applications like Instagram.
“I can’t stand social media in a way because there is a lot of fake stuff out there,” Penny acknowledged. “But at the same time, people think I love posting videos. I didn’t love posting videos because it’s putting yourself out there. At the same time you’ve got some keyboard warrior out there who has never worked with any hitter and thinks he’s an expert. He’s commenting on your stuff and bashing you. That’s not easy.
“Putting myself out there has helped me be able to learn from other hitting coaches to guys who work with Big Leaguers and guys who train the best in the world,” Penny added. “I was able to learn from that avenue and it opened up endless opportunities. To be able to educate myself from those people through social media, I am grateful for that.”
As Penny’s tutorials and tips started to gain traction, those involved with the best hitters in the game started to reach out to him. Meanwhile Penny was willing to meet those experts and coaches halfway by chasing information from the best hitters’ coaches.
“I wanted to know who they hit with,” he explained. “Then I ended up building relationships with the guys they hit with because I just didn’t want to limit myself. This is a common theme.
“I wanted to know exactly what Mookie Betts was working on because he’s an MVP, one of the top players in the game, really good,” Penny continued. “I wanted to study him. I didn’t want to think about what Mookie Betts was doing. I wanted to know exactly what Mookie Betts was doing. Penny continued to evolve his coaching style by learning from all those coaches and taking their information to make his own philosophy.
Some of the principles of Penny’s approach at the plate are each individual hitter is different, the hitter has his own needs and having your tool box available.
“It’s really, really mental,” he said about hitting. “It’s significantly mental. A lot of it is confidence. A lot goes into the approach. And you have to be confident. Where does confidence come from? It comes from preparation. If you’re not putting in the work, how are you going to feel confident.
”The hard work of Penny on and off the diamond landed him coaching jobs at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Combine Academy in North Carolina. “I am going to challenge, but at the same time I want you to leave the cage confident,” Penny noted. “I do something for confidence at the end of the session. It’s finding that money spot. I want to challenge him. He needs to be exposed to these types of environments.
“But at the same time, I can’t have them just getting blown up in practice,” he added. “They go to the game and the game is really hard. They’re confidence is shot.”
Penny’s confidence increased once the Diamondbacks reached out to him. After a series of interviews and getting the blessing of Arizona manager Torey Lovullo to join the team. Penny will head out to Arizona and start coaching January 17. The 26-year-old is a step closer to his ultimate baseball dream of being a part of a MLB team. An underdog for 20 years, Penny said he hopes his story inspires others to never give up on the grind of reaching a goal.
“It is crazy just because in my life it’s always been ‘He’s not good enough to be on the top team,’” he said. “’Naw, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’ ‘He’s probably not going to play.’ ‘This guy doesn’t know.’ ‘He doesn’t fit pro ball.’ “I started playing when I was 6,” Penny concluded. “I’ve been doing baseball for the last 20 years. Since I’ve started in this game I’ve always had to take a backseat. So to finally be in the arena and get my due, it’s a blessing. It’s a dream come true.”