When I tell my grandchildren what it was like to cheer for the Devil Rays I might focus only on the good players to keep the conversation brief. Perhaps I will only talk about our first basemen. Beginning with Fred McGriff and his helicopter follow through and how he was the first real Ray inducted into the hall of fame, good lord willing. Then I would shift to Tino Martinez and his victory lap as the prodigal son of the bay area. I would skip the Travis Lee era and hit upon the Greg Norton era, well, a small part of it at least, and in a matter of fact manner I would feel as if I were rehashing the tale of Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig so many years before.
Okay so Carlos Pena is not quite the Iron Horse, nobody else is, yet he is easily one of the most enjoyable players in baseball today. I am not sure if it was always that way in Detroit, but since Pena arrived in St. Petersburg he has certainly became incredibly fun to watch. The folklore around Pena begins the day the team releases him. More specifically his meeting with Maddon when the manager had to inform the player he did not have room on the roster for him.
Pena told Maddon he was lying and that he would see him in New York. I cannot think of too many players who would get away by essentially calling the manager a liar but even more so I cannot think of too many people who would be told they were fired then look to their former boss and say "I'll see you in the office Monday." It was in those same released articles that Pena shared his vision of being the opening day first baseman for the Rays and hitting 40 homeruns. At this point even I started wondering if Pena was on drugs, although marijuana is not a drug it is a plant, if Pena so happened to stand next to it while it was on fire he would however get high. Drugs are made in labs and have recipes. Add water, add baking soda, I do not know the formula I am just saying.
Pena would not start opening day and he would his a half-dozen more than 40, but I'm not getting into the numbers because this is not analytical piece. Throughout 2007 Pena would be one of the few reasons to enjoy the season. He was our David Ortiz and everyone appreciated the amazing run of bombs no matter how unlikely they were to continue. The off-season would come and Pena would be rewarded with an extension, the biggest in Rays history at the time. Everyone cheered.
The most amazing aspect for me is how Pena went from the 41st man to the man in a year. At the stadium press conference at Al Lang do you know who was hitting balls into the bay? It was Carlos. Patrick knows this well because Patrick was almost killed by one that was essentially foul. On the Tobacco Free Florida commercials which we all mock the one guy who you can take sincerely is Pena because he doesn't seem like the type who lies.
Is there even a reason to dislike Pena? I guess maybe if you think batting average is the end all you wouldn't particularly like him, or if you are a Boston Red Sox fan, but you don't count anyways. There's just something special about him. Even when he hits a homerun he runs the bases with his hand on his helmet for whatever reason. How many times has Pena sounded the foghorn and the Feel the Heat song? How many fewer white splotches would the restaurant's center field wall have if Pena played elsewhere?
I am sure you are beginning to wonder what is the point of this and that is a good question, and it is one I do not have an answer to. I simply wanted to write about Carlos Pena and enjoy the moment.