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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

This Penberthy Hears a Different Call Than Brothers at Master's

April 29, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWHALL — It always looks strange, no matter how many times you see the battery in the linescores for The Master's College:

Escobar and Penberthy. Fuller and Penberthy. Berry and Penberthy.

Which begs the question: What in the world is a member of the basketball-playing Penberthy family doing in baseball?

"He found God's will," said Master's baseball Coach Monte Brooks, laughing. "The others didn't."

The others are Aaron Penberthy's brothers, Mike and Joey. Mike is the school's all-time scoring leader and plays professional basketball in Germany. Joey is a sophomore starting guard for the Mustangs.

Another sibling, 14-year-old John, will attend Hoover High in Fresno to follow his brothers on the court.

"He could [become] the best [basketball player] in the family," Aaron said.

When it comes to baseball, those bragging rights belong to Aaron.

A 6-foot, 220-pound junior, Penberthy is a solid hitter and catcher for the Mustangs (33-8), who play Southern California College (22-21) on Thursday at 3 p.m. in the first round of the NAIA at-large tournament at Azusa Pacific.

He leads the team with 12 home runs, ranks second with 39 runs batted in and is batting .324, 39 points higher than last season. He is one homer short of the school season record, established by Dan O'Sullivan in 1993.

"Part of that is maturity," Brooks said of Penberthy's emergence this season. "He has also put in an arduous effort to improve himself. We just stressed some things with him consistently and he just kept doing them and doing them and got better and better."

Especially when hitting for power at Master's, where it is 340 feet down the line in left field. Penberthy has doubled his home-run production from 1997.

Perhaps some of that pop can be attributed to part of his playing attire.

"He likes to wear a Superman shirt underneath his jersey," said Joey. "It's blue and has the big 'S' on the front. Mike's wife gave it to him."

Penberthy, 21, offers a more conventional explanation.

"I never really learned how to hit until I got [to Master's]," Penberthy said. "Coach Brooks taught me a lot of the basics."

Penberthy is also valuable behind the plate, calling the pitches for a retooled staff that has a 2.94 earned-run average, nearly three runs lower than last season.

"He's very smart back there," said ace right-hander Ruben Escobar (10-1), who has a 1.79 ERA. "Very rarely I'll shake him off."

Brooks, a former minor leaguer for the San Diego Padres, said Penberthy studies the game and learns quickly.

"I remember we went to a Padres' game at Dodger Stadium one time and I had him talk to [San Diego manager and former catcher] Bruce Bochy," Brooks said. "Aaron got to hear a professional perspective and he just ate it all up."

Penberthy never shied from the challenges demanded of a catcher.

"I felt I had to take a little bit more of the responsibility as a team leader," Penberthy said. "I love being in those tight situations, calling the pitches. It's what makes it fun for me."

The transition to playing baseball full time and nothing more than recreational basketball wasn't easy for Penberthy. He was an All-City guard in high school but chose to stick with baseball in college.

"Basketball is in our blood and I miss basketball," he said. "I go to the gym all the time and shoot around. But baseball has always been something I've loved to play. It was my sport."

At Master's, Penberthy has a one-man rooting section in Joey, who does his part to swing the odds in Aaron's and the team's favor.

"I always sit in the same chair [at the field]," Joey said. "If someone else is sitting there, I might ask them to move. It depends if [the team is] winning or losing."

"He's not only my brother. We are such good friends."

When the Penberthy brothers get together in Fresno, basketball rules.

"We were always playing H-O-R-S-E together or pickup games," Penberthy said. "We used to put [John] on Mike's team, because Mike was so good."

In a few years, the brothers could almost make their own alumni team at Hoover. Then the boxscore would read: Penberthy, Penberthy, Penberthy, Penberthy and friend.

That would look more like it.

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