Shaping Red Sox infielder Brock Holt: Mentor, friend, coach, Derwood Penney
Red Sox Brock Holt is a special player, he’s known for his role on and off the field. Coach Derwood “Pops” Penney played a huge role in shaping Holt.
It’s been an emotionally grueling week for Red Sox infielder Brock Holt as he’s mourned the recent passing of his junior college coach, Derwood “Pops” Penney. Penney coached Holt in Texas at Navarro Junior College. According to Holt, Penney played a large role in shaping the player he has become. With the help of Penney, Holt turned into a Division 1 player at Rice.
Derwood “Pops” Penney was born on February 13, 1941, in Texas. After retiring from a 45-year career as a farm parts department manager, Penney went into coaching baseball (the game that he loved). He volunteered as an assistant coach with the Navarro College team, his alma mater, for 16 years.
During his junior year, Penney played for coach Jesse Cummings who he later coached with at Navarro. Penney played as a second baseman and as a shortstop. He was known for teaching players skills on the field and off the field.
Navarro is ranked as being part of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Navarro College baseball players who have played in the majors include Austin Pruitt, Chris Holt, Matt Beech, Chris Davis, Josh Geer, Randy Keisler, Jess Todd, Brad Hawpe, Drew VerHagen, Kevin Hart, James Russell, David Hulse, and Kevin Belcher.
Navarro holds a special place in the career that Holt has created for himself. Navarro allowed him to play at a collegiate level at a time when no other school would take a chance on him. Holt credits the entire experience as being massive in his development.
Holt attended Navarro for a short period, staying only 2 years before moving his way up the college ranks. Although his time there was short, he developed an everlasting bond with Penney. According to Holt, Penney would watch most of the Red Sox games and would text him afterward offering pieces of advice.
The relationships formed between a coach and a player can be a uniquely special one. You’re spending countless hours together, joining forces for one cause, often spending more time together than with your actual family. Penney went above and beyond and really cared about his players. It has been 11 years since Brock Holt attended Navarro, but Penney still maintained his role as a mentor for Holt.
Holt left the Red Sox for a few days to return to Texas when he heard the news. Upon his return from paying his respects, Holt’s home run on Saturday started the rally that led the Sox to a 4-0 win against the Orioles. Holt recalls his feelings in the moments after his scoring play,
"“During the game, you’re pretty locked in mentally. As soon as that ball went out, my thoughts immediately went to Pops. It was a pretty special moment. I gave it one of these around second base,” Holt said repeating his gesture and smiled. “I did it again at home plate in case he wasn’t watching the first one.”"
Holt was drafted out of Rice University in 2009 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has been an All-Star and won the World Series with the Sox in 2018. He has a career .271 BA, .340 OBP, and .376 SLG over his 8 years in the majors.
You never know the role that someone will play in your life. I think the relationship and influence between a coach and a player is one that doesn’t get spoken about enough. The impact of a coach is often silent, known only by the player, coach, and those close to both. Penney played a big role in shaping Holt.
Holt has the characteristics, talent, and work ethic that suggest he could have made it where he is today without the help of Penney. But would he be the same player, the same man? Maybe the two bonded over having played the same position. Maybe Penney saw something in Holt that stuck out to him. The relationship that the two cultivated is amazing beyond words.
I’ve always loved watching Holt play. He’s the ultimate utility player, he’s the goofy heart behind the team. Every great player has an army behind him that helped shape who is he. One important member of Holt’s army was Derwood “Pops” Penney. For that, as Red Sox fans, as Brock Holt fans, we should all thank him.