Braxton Pennington, a senior with Grove High School, has become the first student in 21 years to sign with a Division 1 school for baseball.
Coaches with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff home of the Golden Lions recently signed Pennington as a starting pitcher and third baseman.
"This is a pretty exciting deal for me and the team, plus I know I can play at this level," Pennington said. "The coaching staff really pulled me in [to the school] and then it’s who you play - OSU, Baylor, TCU - these are big baseball programs.
“20 years from now I can always tell my kids I pitched against TCU or I shut down OSU.”
Pennington will have the chance to attend the University on a 50/50 scholarship which means half is a result of his athletics and the other half his academics.
As a result of his scholarships, Pennington said he will have roughly 90 percent of his tuition covered.
He has a desire to join the Army ROTC program and study to become a nurse anesthetist while attending school.
“I’ve always wanted to serve in the military and it’s always been a dream to be in the military medical field," Pennington said.
He plans to make a career out of the military after college by continuing to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves after completing his active service commitment.
Like many young athletes, Pennington welcomes the opportunity to continue playing past college.
“If I get drafted going into my sophomore summer I would probably take it because that’s been the dream," he said. "I can always go back to school to get that done later.”
Born in Joplin, Missouri, Pennington is the oldest of four. He started with coach pitch at the age of 7, then moved into kid pitch at 8, playing for a traveling team his father Donnie coached.
Pennington played ball in Neosho, Missouri, before coming to Grove his sophomore year after his father was offered a position coaching Grove’s baseball team.
With both his parents playing athletics at the college level, it helps to drive Pennington to continue to do better.
He looks up to his father as his hero.
"Dad [Donnie] grew up in a rough spot, and going from a very poor family to making good money and having the things he has today is obviously a huge success," Pennington said. "Mom [Angie] has really been there for me too, she helped me to adapt to a new town and has been to all my games as my biggest fan."
Pennington spends a lot of time working closely with Grove’s pitching Coach Drew Osborne.
Osborne has been working with Pennington since his eighth grade year.
“He’s probably one of the reasons I’m the pitcher I am today," Pennington said. "Coach Oz has shown me so much.”
Pennington has a variety of pitches he can throw ranging from a two-seam fastball, change up, curve ball and a fork ball.
“My best pitch is my changeup because it changes speed so well," Pennington said. "I can get to those mid 80s and drop to 78 with that change up so it gets you off balance.”
Pitching doesn’t come easy, as Pennington has a strict workout routine which has helped him reach this point.
“Back in Neosho in seventh grade I was always working out with the high school players," Pennington said. "My goal was to always try and beat them as I’m going in there to compete."
Pennington also goes to the Grand Lake Family YMCA in Grove at 5 a.m., every day, continue to strengthen himself - constantly pushing himself to be stronger and faster.
He also coaches younger students in baseball after school every day and takes time to give back to the community in other ways.
Pennington, along with his siblings, manage a local sno cone business, Ridgy Ice during their summers.
"[It] has taught him business sense and responsibility," explained his father, Donnie Pennington.
In 10 years, Pennington said he hopes still be playing ball.
"[I hope to be] playing in a pro-ball organization and a top arm in the major leagues," Pennington said. "With my work ethic I believe I can honestly get there.
“I hope to have a couple kids, a beautiful wife, living on a range somewhere and duck hunting in the morning.”