Now, Brad Penny, Jeff Conine, and three more teammates from the class of ‘03 are involved in a different kind of ballgame — and you’re invited along for the ride!
The five members of the ‘03 World Series champions are just part of a 115-strong contingent of retired professional athletes who have joined PBX Pickleball. This new league connects ex-sports stars with the pickleball community.
Sports Facilities Companies, based in Clearwater, Florida, founded PBX PickLaunched four months ago. Its impressive roster includes retirees from all over the major sports map, including former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Sharp, Golden State Warriors small forward Rick Barry, and Florida Gators/Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.
“I love it. I’m addicted to it,’’ said Brad Penny, who added plans for a PBX Pickleball event in West Palm Beach in early December will be announced nearer the time.
Former Marlins pitcher Penny has become a PBX Pickleball ambassador and has worked hard to bring former teammates into the fold.
His recruitment so far has seen ‘03 Marlins colleagues Conine, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Derrek Lee join. Indeed, Penny told Special Correspondent for the Palm Beach Post Joe Capozzi that Conine might be one of the best picklers to wear Marlins teal:
“I’ve played with Conine. He’s a great pickleball player.’’
PBX Pickleball offers the former athletes four experiences to compete against each other:
- Solo or pair teams;
- In pro-ams;
- At fantasy camps; and
- At corporate retreats for business people.
The unique selling point is that PBX Pickleball allows fans to pair up with or play against any one of the rosters. So a Warriors fan could compete in a doubles game with Barry as his partner or, alternatively, face him on the other side of the net.
“At a (baseball) park, fans can’t have full access to players. We want this to be the opposite. Call it ‘inside the ropes.’ There is no barrier between former athletes and the fans. You will be together,’’ said ex-Atlanta Braves pitcher Kent Mercker, another PBX ambassador.
Several mini-events took place this summer to promote the new league, including one in Sarasota, Florida, and just over a week ago, Penny played in the PBX Pro-Am tournament in Arizona with ex-baseball stars Luis Gonzalez, Jeff Cirillo, and Tino Martinez, Olympic gold-medal swimmer Breeja Larson, NFL quarterback Jake Plummer and pickleball star Ryan Sherry.
The round-robin competition featured 15 places open to the public, all of which were snapped up despite the hefty price tag of $800.
The cost included breakfast and lunch with the ex-pros, plus the chance to get photographs, autographs, and branded swag.
“It was a blast,’’ said Penny.
“I Didn’t Know What A Pickleball Was”
Penny reveals he only took up pickleball after retiring from baseball in 2016, confessing, “I didn’t know what pickleball was.”
His introduction to the sport came through the pastor at his local church in Stilwell, Kansas.
“There’s a misconception that it’s an easy game to play,” he added. “It can be, but the tougher the competition, the tougher it’s going to be.”
The Perennial Debate
Mercker, envisioning themed events tying sports to cities, foresees matches at iconic venues like Chicago’s Wrigley Field, featuring former Cubs and Blackhawks players.
He also believes it will settle the perennial debate over which sport boasts superior athletes.
Reflecting on his own transition, Mercker, who secured a World Series ring in 1995 and pitched a no-hitter in 1994, noted, “Think about it: I was lucky to play at the highest level for 17 years. And now I get enjoyment out of hitting a Wiffle ball! I mean, it’s a wiffle ball!”
While there are distinctions between pickleball and Wiffle ball, Mercker’s analogy holds true: It’s akin to hitting a Wiffle ball with a paddle.
He was keen to emphasize the appeal for retired professional athletes, who miss the competitive edge. Many initially chuckled at the idea but are now embracing it. “It is amazingly fun,” he affirmed.
The Upper Hand
Mercker dispelled the notion that retired pros would have the upper hand over weekend pickleball enthusiasts with day jobs.
“I didn’t play racquet or paddle sports growing up,” he admitted. “I’m learning all this on the fly. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I think I am getting better every time I get out there.
“Most of us have decent hand-eye coordination, which is a big part of this, so it doesn’t take us long to figure out what to do. It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it.”
Intensity Of Past Competitions
Matches between former athletes rekindle the intensity of their past competitions in various sporting arenas.
Mercker summed it up, stating, “At the end of the day, it’s all about having fun, but when it’s athletes against athletes, it’s going to be fun, but for however long those matches take, it’s going to be, ‘Hey, I don’t want to lose this game. I’m not losing to those guys.'”
PBX also offers retired athletes a chance to step onto the pickleball court, fostering reunions and reminiscences of their heydays.
For enthusiasts of sports and pickleball, PBX stands as the league of choice and provides an exceptional opportunity to elevate your pickleball game while making lifetime memories at the same time.
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