The lifespan of a big league dream blurs by like a two-seam fastball with movement.
For most, bottom of the ninth, Game 7 of the World Series plays out in a backyard that needs mowed. And thanks to some liberal scorekeeping in the local rec league, the final slugging career numbers are astronomical.
Beyond illusion, however, a tiny group sticks with the game and pours their heart into it. And for a fraction of them — for guys like Broomfield alum Walter Pennington — the dream even gets within reach.
Last month, the left-handed pitcher — who tossed aside school pitching records while earning his degree in mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines — took one step closer to The Show, signing a free agent contract with the Kansas City Royals.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to go professional, like any little kid,” said Pennington, who is expected to start on the Royals’ rookie team in the Arizona League next spring. “When I was a senior in high school and decided to go to Mines, I knew they had a good baseball program as well as a good engineering program. So, if one didn’t work out, I could always do the other.”
Pennington had wondered if his baseball dreams had been canceled. 2020’s cancel culture — this time, of course, the culprit was the coronavirus.
After the pandemic ramped up in the spring, the virus shut down not only what would’ve been Pennington’s senior baseball season — but what he’d hoped to have been his successful showcase to land in the Major League Baseball Draft.
But with the MLB shortening its draft from 40 rounds to just five this year, promising talents like Pennington were left out.
“It was a heartbreaker when we heard our season was canceled,” Pennington said, then letting out a deep sigh. “I think everyone was just in shock. … Just for those couple days we were like, ‘What’s going on with our life right now? Where is it headed?’”
The NCAA ended up granting another year of eligibility to spring athletes like Pennington, who planned on going to grad school with the intent on pitching for Mines in 2021.
In preparation, he worked out during the shutdown. Then trained when facilities reopened. And over the summer, he played in the amateur National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas for the Colorado Cyclones.
There, he got the nod.
“Hey Pennington, you got a second?” The ace had just pitched four sharp innings for the Cyclones and was on the phone with his brother when he turned to the voice.
The guy “wasn’t wearing any Royals clothing. Just looked like a normal guy,” Pennington said. “So, I hung up the phone and talked with him. He told me he was a Royals scout and asked if I was interested in signing.”
The contract hit the MLB waiver wire Aug. 24, adding another chapter to Pennington’s already impressive stay in baseball.
The lefty was high school standout with the Eagles, posting a 0.83 ERA over 42 innings his senior season. In college, he was ‘The Guy’ with the Orediggers, where he went 24-10 in 30 career starts and 51 appearances. He also broke the program’s single-season record for innings pitched (92 1/3) in 2019, while tying the mark in wins (10).
“It is a blessing to be signed by the Kansas City Royals, especially in these uncertain times,” Pennington told the Mines’ athletic site after signing. “I am very grateful to my family, friends, teammates and coaches who have helped me get to this point. It saddens me to say that I’ve played my last game in an Oredigger uniform, but I cherished every single moment with these guys. Moving forward, I am extremely excited to play in the Royals organization and to see what lies ahead.”