Home Sports Former Florida Marlins World Series teammates reunite on the pickleball courts

Former Florida Marlins World Series teammates reunite on the pickleball courts

Former Florida Marlins World Series teammates reunite on the pickleball courts

Twenty years ago this month, they were shocking the baseball world, rolling through the playoffs, and upsetting the Latest York Yankees to win the 2003 World Series. Now, Brad Penny, Jeff Conine, and just a few of their ‘03 Florida Marlins teammates are competing in a complete recent ballgame – and so they want you to affix them.

Five members of the ‘03 World Series champions are amongst 115 retired skilled athletes who’ve signed on with PBX Pickleball, a brand new league that connects former sports stars with the pickleball community. Launched 4 months ago by Clearwater-based Sports Facilities Firms, the PBX Pickleball roster includes retired players from all major sports – from former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and Chicago Blackhawks hockey star Patrick Sharp to Golden State Warriors legend Rick Barry and Florida Gators/Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, to call just a few.

“I like it. I’m hooked on it,” said Penny, who said there are tentative plans for a PBX Pickleball event in West Palm Beach in early December. (Details are still being worked out.) As one among several PBX ambassadors, Penny helped recruit ‘03 Marlins teammates Conine, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Derrek Lee. Up to now, Penny said, Conine could be the most effective picklers to wear Marlins teal. “I’ve played with Conine. He’s an important pickleball player,” Penny said. PBX Pickleball offers 4 experiences: former athletes competing against one another via solo or pair teams, in pro-ams, at fantasy camps, and at corporate retreats. Although PBX Pickleball’s roster is made up of retired athletes, the brand new league is all in regards to the fan experience, offering a die-hard Marlins fan, for instance, a likelihood to truly play with or against Penny, Conine, or one among the opposite retired Marlins on a pickleball court. Former Braves pitcher Kent Mercker calls it ‘contained in the ropes’.

“At a (baseball) park, fans can’t have full access to players. We would like this to be the alternative. Call it ‘contained in the ropes’. There is no such thing as a barrier between former athletes and the fans. You can be together,” said retired Atlanta Braves pitcher Kent Mercker, one among several PBX ambassadors.

Several mini-events were held this summer to advertise the brand new league, including one in Sarasota. On Oct. 17, Penny participated in PBX’s first pro-am in Arizona with such former baseball stars as Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Cirillo, and Tino Martinez, Olympic gold-medal swimmer Breeja Larson, NFL quarterback Jake Plummer, and pickleball star Ryan Sherry. Fifteen spots were made available to the general public for that first pro-am, which featured a round-robin format. All were sold. The $800 cost per participant included breakfast and lunch with PBX players together with photographs, autographs, and PBX Pickleball swag. “It was a blast,” said Penny, who won two World Series games in ‘03.

Penny said he didn’t pick up a pickleball paddle until after he retired from baseball in 2016. “I didn’t know what pickleball was,” he said. That modified when he was introduced to the sport by the pastor on the church he attends near his home in Stilwell, Kansas. Invented in 1965, pickleball is played with two paddles and a tough plastic ball. It combines elements of tennis, pingpong, and badminton, with the ball hit across the opponent’s net. Sounds easy enough. However the competition will be intense. “There is a misconception that it’s a simple game to play,” Penny said. “It might probably be, however the tougher the competition, the tougher it will be.”

Mercker said he envisions the league eventually hosting events with sports themes tied to cities, like a match at Chicago’s Wrigley Field between two former Cubs and two former Blackhawks. “I believe this may give us a chance to not only compete and rejoice but additionally sort of answer that age-old query of which sport has the perfect athletes,” he said.

Mercker, who won a World Series ring with the 1995 Braves and tossed a no-hitter in 1994, said he began playing pickleball just a few years ago. Like Penny, he was quickly addicted. “Give it some thought: I used to be lucky to play at the best level for 17 years,” Mercker said. “And now I get enjoyment out of hitting a Wiffle ball! I mean, it is a Wiffle ball!’’There are differences between pickleball and a Wiffle ball, but Mercker’s point is spot-on: It’s essentially like hitting a Wiffle ball with a paddle as an alternative of a bat.

“I comprehend it’s fun for former (major sports) players since the one thing they miss is the competition,” he said. “Many retired guys I talked to sort of laughed once I first talked about it, but they’re beginning to get into it. It’s amazingly fun.”

And don’t assume that a retired skilled athlete could have a bonus over a weekend pickleball player with an office job. “I didn’t play racquet or paddle sports growing up,” Mercker said. “I’m learning all this on the fly. I’ve still got an extended method to go, but I believe I’m convalescing each time I get on the market. “Most of us have decent hand-eye coordination, which is a giant a part of this, so it doesn’t take us long to work out what to do. It’s only a matter of getting on the market and doing it.”

Matches pitting former athletes against one another bring back the identical intensity athletes felt years ago competing against one another on ballfields, ice rinks, and basketball courts. “At the top of the day, it’s all about having fun,” Mercker said, “but when it’s athletes against athletes, it will be fun, but for nevertheless long those matches take, it’s going to be, ‘Hey, I don’t wish to lose this game. I’m not losing to those guys.'”

PBX also gives retired athletes the prospect to get on the pickleball court and reunite and reminisce about their glory days. And for Penny and other retired Marlins picklers, there was numerous reminiscing this month about their World Series run 20 years ago, led by manager Jack McKeon. “That was an actual fun time. Everybody got along. Jack knew find out how to piss us off barely enough to make us higher,” said Penny, who won his two World Series starts that October and was penciled in to pitch Game 7. There was no game because Beckett blanked the Yankees 2-0 in Game 6 to win the championship. “It might have been fun to pitch Game 7,” said Penny, “but man I’m glad it was over in Game 6.”


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