On April 19 at 10:48 a.m., Michael Pfenninger, Manhattan Jaspers starting infielder, tweeted this:
It’s such a mature message being posted by a 20-year-old. And for those who don’t know Pfenninger, they probably would be taken aback by it, especially in the 20th century. When asked about the tweet, Pffenninger said there’s actually a story behind it.
In his junior year at Hunterdon Central Regional High School, his varsity baseball team, the Red Devils, had around 19 seniors on it, and being that it was their last year, they expected that they’d play more. Some of those players didn’t earn in their play on field the privilege to receive playing time, Pfenninger said. And out of their anger, the parents of those players brought a lawsuit against the team’s head coach, Mike Raymond, to the board of education.
Near the time this was going on, it was about the halfway mark in the season, Pfenninger himself was benched because he was dealing with a back injury, but more so he was in a slump. However, he said he looked at his having to look on from the dugout indefinitely as being solely on him. So when he later found out that his name was put into the suit against Raymond without his permission. His frustration after hearing about it already made it clear to him how he’d respond when interviewed by the school’s superintendent, who was conducting the interviews of players on the team to figure out what should be done with Raymond.
Here’s how Pfenninger remembered the interview going:
Superintendent: “Do you think coach Raymond is too hard on these kids? Is he unfair?”
Pfenninger: “The kids who play are the ones who work hard. This man, his job and his livelihood is in jeopardy because these kids were too lazy to do the extra mile.”
“It’s funny because the day that I tweeted that [Raymond] got promoted to Athletic Director of my high school,” Pfenninger said. “These kids, who don’t even play baseball anymore, were fully prepared to put this man on blast in front of the whole town and it frustrated me because I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
With that behind him, Pfenninger said that was his “wake up call” because “nothing is going to be handed to you. You’re going to get what you put the work in for.”
In Pfenninger’s senior year at Hunterdon Central, he finally was given the chance to play with a couple of his friends on the varsity baseball team, where he had played on since he entered high school while they had been on junior varsity. Ironically, that same season his team, the Hunterdon Central Red Devils, qualified for the county’s championship against the North Hunterdon Lions, a team Pfenninger’s mom, Sherri, called the “big rival.” Throughout that year, the Lions beat the Red Devils twice. The result flip-flopped to the other side in the final match-up: the Red Devils beat the Lions.
“Just the group of them together, no matter what else happened, were so happy to share it with each other,” Sherri said. “We still look back it now because it was such a happy time with his closest friends. That was probably one of his favorite times in baseball.”
Bringing people together isn’t a part of the Red Devil’s team motto “Make Yourself Better Everyday,” but its head coach, Mike Raymond, said that’s how Pfenninger exemplifies himself every single time he stepped on and continues to step on the field.
“That stuff is contagious,” Raymond said.
During winter workouts in Pfenninger’s junior year, Raymond said he walked in one day to watch his team train together. When he arrived, he saw Pfenninger interacting with his teammates as a leader to the younger players in showing them “how things are done and setting a level of high expectations.”
“That is Michael,” Raymond said. “He loved our program. He loves baseball. He tries to pass that love and that dedication onto the younger guys. Those guys have continued that tradition, and that’s attributed to him and those guys.
“He’s good for kids. I have a young son who’s eight years old, and he’s one of my former or current players I would want my son to grow up and be like. He’s a special player and person.”
“We try to always talk to him about keeping a level head,” Pfenninger’s mom said. “Most of it comes from Michael’s team mentality. A lot of the time he tries to step back and appreciate where he’s at and what’s going on around him. He always has a pretty good outlook.”
On a recruiting trip, Jim Duffy, Manhattan Jaspers head baseball coach, was standing opposite of where he usually is when at baseball game: behind the fence. The reason was he went to watch Pfenninger play at a high school summer tournament.
In one of Pfenninger’s at-bats, he hit a routine line-drive over the shortstop’s head toward the gap between the left and center-fielders. It was “nothing special,” as Duffy described it, but he noticed that both outfielders jogged over, looked at each other and then the left-fielder finally picked it up. As he did so, Pfenninger was already sliding in feet first into second base.
“Pfenninger never stopped running,” Duffy said, “because his instincts told him, ‘They’re not getting to the ball in time and they’re not getting me.’ He makes a single turn into a double. I see that, and I’m like, ‘Wow, I would like that kid to play for me.”
As that same game progressed, Pfenninger started the game playing over at third base and later he moved to second. The next day, he was at first and then the outfield.
He continues to be this versatile under Duffy with the Jaspers. In the fall and winter he was named the starting third-baseman. Now, he’s starting at second. And in the March series at the Miami Hurricanes, ranked No. 6 in the country at the time, he played at first. All these changes in position were due to injuries and him being the most capable to fill in, Duffy said.
“When Duffy told me, ‘You’re going to be my third-baseman, and I just want you to get the experience of it.’ Starting most of the season my freshman year helped me,” Pfenninger said. “I struggled, but it helped me a lot because I now tell myself, ‘When the going gets bad, don’t overthink it, don’t drive yourself insane.’ As a freshman, I thought I had to be perfect every single time or we wouldn’t win.”
From the lawsuit brought against Mike Raymond and his growth as a person and player at Hunterdon Central back in high school to Duffy’s recruitment of him into college. The constant throughout is in Pfenninger’s actions: his versatility in any given situation he’s placed into.
“I love that about that kid,” Christian Santisteban, Pfenninger’s teammate and roomate, said. “He’s like a bulldog, he’ll keep grinding and whatever he needs to do he’ll do it. He, honestly, may not have the best stats but he’s never too down on himself and he’s never too high on himself, and I like that about him.”
“I would be hard-pressed to find somebody that loves baseball more than Pfenninger,” Duffy said. “He’s the epitome of a baseball rat. He’s always in the batting cages. If you see him walking around, he has a baseball hat on, his glove hanging off his backpack.”
Duffy said he thinks Pfenninger is good at baseball because of his love for the sport itself. That’s why he doesn’t care where he plays, as long as he’s playing. He’s one of those players that when they wake up in the morning and they don’t have a game that’s the only thing that brings them down.
“Next year as a junior, he’ll really be the whole package, if he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself,” Duffy said. “If there’s such a thing, he may care too much. I want to recruit more kids like that. When he has to put the work in, it’s not really work for him, it’s just fun. He genuinely loves it.”