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Pennington focused on present

Pennington focused on present

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If Cliff Pennington is letting his selection to the United States squad that will participate in this year's XM Satellite Radio All-Star Future's Game go to his head, he's not letting it show.

Oakland's former first-round pick (2005) out of Texas A&M was busy Saturday afternoon taking early batting practice with his teammates at Raley Field, nothing unusual there. But as the rounds of hitting progressed, the Sacramento infielder shed his helmet and batting gloves and began roaming the outfield picking up all the stray baseballs. There's nothing big-time about that.

He proceeded to wander into the bullpen and stand as a practice hitter while one of his teammates threw a side session, then dug in for an imaginary at-bat. He followed by picking up another ball or two as he trudged back to the clubhouse just beyond the center-field fence, never once having to make room for the ego that would have accompanied some others.

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When someone joked about the Futures star doing the grunt work, Pennington just smiled, deflecting any attention.

"I'm not the big name," he said. "There are some bigger names in this clubhouse. This is just an honor. It was something that I knew had a chance of happening this year. I got selected and I'm very excited about it. I haven't put a lot of thought into it, though.

"It [the event] is always a fun thing and I've always enjoyed watching it on television. I haven't seriously thought about it, otherwise."

The Futures Game will take place Sunday, July 13, at Yankee Stadium. With the Olympic Games in Beijing in August, a new format has been adopted for the Futures Game. Instead of selecting the U.S. squad based solely on prospect status, players were chosen as part of the 2008 Team USA Olympic trial team. Also different from years past is the length of the game. This year's contest will be nine innings, beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Prior to this season, the majority of the games were seven-inning affairs.

While Pennington will be in New York next week, and possibly in Beijing later in the month, he still hasn't lived completely up to expectations that accompany a first-round pick. He was hitting .264 in 311 at-bats between Double-A Midland and Sacramento.

So, he's out there early, like he was last Saturday, working on what he describes as "trying to keep the ball out of the air."

"I want a line-drive, ground-ball approach," Pennington said. "I want to have a hard-ground-ball approach."

It may help in the long run, and help Pennington earn himself that spot on the Olympic team. He does get on base, having collected 60 walks while striking out only 50 times during those 311 at-bats. And when he does get on base, he's able to wreak some havoc, stealing 21 bases in his first 26 attempts.

"I think things are going pretty well, and I feel healthy, that's a big key," said Pennington, who missed much of the 2006 season with a hamstring issue. "I just want to go out there, have fun and enjoy playing baseball.

"I want to try worrying about being here rather than being somewhere else. That doesn't help. I've wanted to move up the last couple of years, but the only way to move up is to play well. If you think about moving up, then you're not focused on playing baseball, and not likely to play well."

If Pennington seems like a serious young man, well, he is. He turned 24 in June and has been married for a year-and-a-half. His wife, Missy, has moved with him from Midland to Sacramento, and he believes that has been a benefit.

"I get to have home-cooked meals when I go home, whereas the guys in Midland were getting fast food after the game," he said. "They have a spread here, so it's a little different, but it's nice having her here with me."

She'll probably accompany him to New York, and then, who knows, maybe Beijing.

"I'm excited about it," Pennington said. "I've been to New York before but never Yankee Stadium. Ask me again in a couple of weeks, though."

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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