Pena excelling and doing it his way
PHILADELPHIA -- Respect is a big word to Carlos Pena, the alternately serious and frothy Tampa Bay first baseman. He uses the word constantly, whether he is talking about a formidable opponent ("We have a lot of respect for the Red Sox"), the numerous mentors he recalls through the years when his can't-miss status stood severely in doubt ("I love Ron Washington. He showed me respect") or when he considers the global difficulties of his occupation ("One of the first things I learned is how much respect you have to have for this game. It's not easy").During this month of discovery, both for the Rays on center stage and a baseball universe accustomed to having them virtually eliminated before Labor Day, Pena has captured the postseason with his erudition, social viewpoints and ebullience. The day before the Phillies beat the Rays 3-2 in Game 1 of the World Series, a few of his teammates were looking for Pena. "He's not here," deadpanned reserve Eric Hinske. "He's probably out saving the whales." Streaking toward the playoffs, the team (including manager Joe Maddon) agreed to wear Mohawks, but third baseman Evan Longoria thought at least one player needed to represent the respectable side of the franchise. The player Longoria chose was Pena.
The fightPena walks a personality tightrope almost unheard of in baseball: the highly touted young player who resisted changes to his hitting even as he struggled, yet remained enormously well-respected by management of the nearly half-dozen clubs that let him go before his breakout first season in Tampa Bay, when he hit 46 home runs and drove in 121 runs in 2007. He was selected by Texas with the 10th pick of the first round in 1998, but played just 22 games with the big club. He was traded twice in seven months in 2002, from the Rangers to Oakland in January and then in a three-team deal from Oakland to Detroit.
|6/2/1998||Drafted by Texas in the first round (No. 10 overall pick)|
|1/14/2002||Traded by Texas with Mike Venafro to Oakland for Jason Hart, Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwick and Mario Ramos|
|7/5/2002||Traded by Oakland with Jeremy Bonderman and Franklyn German to Detroit as part of a three-way deal with the NY Yankees|
|3/26/2006||Released by Detroit|
|4/15/2006||Signed as a free agent with the NY Yankees|
|8/16/2006||Released by the NY Yankees|
|8/17/2006||Signed as a free agent with Boston|
|10/13/2006||Granted free agency|
|2/1/2007||Signed as a free agent with Tampa Bay|
HomeIf Longoria is the heart and the hope of the Rays, Pena represents the team's soul and conscience. He provides a player version of his manager, Maddon, in viewing baseball through the larger world, which in the myopic, self-absorbed baseball universe is more remarkable than it may first appear. Pena is also emblematic of another Rays/Maddon characteristic: being unafraid to think differently, of approaching the game with a different orthodoxy. The result is that St. Petersburg, of all places, has become a place of redemption. "I liked the idea of seeing pitches and drawing walks," Maddon said before the Rays evened the World Series with a 4-2 win in Game 2. "I also encouraged him to use the whole field and not pull everything, really avoid the 4-3 and 3-unassisted, and if he went through a bad streak, don't be changing your mechanics, man. Change what you're thinking about. Your thinking is probably out of control and you're starting to chase. "Sometimes, what a good coach does is misconstrued. The easiest thing to do as a coach, baseball specifically, is to attempt to change someone's physical mechanics. That is easy. The more difficult thing to do is change their mental mechanics." When Pena arrived in St. Petersburg, he was encouraged by two liberating moments. The first was that neither Maddon nor hitting coach Steve Henderson would attempt to remake him as a hitter. Neither man wanted to tinker with his swing. "As a former hitting coach, I was always concerned with trying to influence anyone's career too much. I always thought a hitting coach should make suggestions, instead of telling someone to do something," Maddon said. "For example, Stan Musial: Fortunately, there were no really intelligent hitting coaches around at that time because they would have told him, 'Stan, you cannot stand that way. That peek-a-boo stance is just not going to work, and you need to change when you're 17.' If someone had done that, you would have never heard of Stan Musial. Joe DiMaggio, extreme, spread-out stance. Paul Molitor, no movement before the pitch. All those things ran counter. So you have to let guys go, make your suggestions and let guys find their way through it."
He was part of that generation of players that had an opinion.
With Carlos, when you told him something, he wanted to know why. And he wasn't going to change if your reasoning didn't make sense to
-- Ron Washington, Texas Rangers manager
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