“The biggest ripple effect was in 2011. I brought in 17 freshmen,” Saucier said. UMPI’s publicity helped enormously in recruiting. The roster size was around 16 the year Pennington wrote his story. By 2011, it had nearly doubled in size. “Things just rippled and got better and better. And we started competing at a much higher level,” Saucier said. In 2011, the team set the school record for wins at 16.
But outside of the baseball success, the program saw something even more inspiring.
People from all over the country began emailing and calling in to express how Pennington’s article affected them. “We started getting people requesting baseballs with the whole team’s signatures,” Saucier said. Then the donations started pouring in.
“That first season, after the New York Times article, I think we almost had around $20,000 in total donations,” Saucier said. One donor in particular accounted for half of that total. “This lady called me and I had to pull over when she said she wanted to donate $10 thousand. I almost drove into the snowbank,” Saucier said.
Fourteen years later, Pennington is now retired from the New York Times. He reflects with fondness on his 2009 story. “It was a fun story to do,” Pennington said. He credits the UMPI players and head coach Leo Saucier for being very helpful and said they were integral to the story’s success. “A lot of credit goes to the players and the coach,” Pennington said. “If they weren’t genuine, who they were, then the story wouldn’t have come off nearly as well.”
Bill Pennington’s story certainly reached (and touched) many. “I got a lot of response. It definitely struck a nerve with people on a lot of different levels,” Pennington said. His goal was simply to shed light on a part of college sports people rarely see. “There’s a lot of things that college athletics is. And some of it is overdone, and some of it is just really authentic and much more pure,” Pennington said.
Pennington’s excellent work in showing the beauty in the humble and authentic things just goes to show the power that journalism can have. For Coach Leo Saucier and his team, they will never forget that 2009 season and the ripple effects they experienced after. But on behalf of everyone who was and still is affected by Pennington’s story, thank you.