"His power is unbelievable," Ortiz said. "He's like a 'Little Papi,' and I know that when his time comes, he will be a good player. Nobody hits the ball like Mo
Ortiz is right, but few miss the ball like Pena, either. He arrived in Red Sox camp from the
Cincinnati Reds in the trade for Bronson Arroyo this spring with a reputation for hitting the long ball, but also for taking the long walk back to the dugout after striking out. That's where Ortiz and Ramirez come in.
Whether they are running side-by-side on the treadmill at the team hotel, sharing a cab or hitting balls in the batting cage, it's hard not to spot Ortiz or Ramirez working and talking with their new not-so-little buddy.
Pena, 24, is 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, is built more like a Patriots linebacker than a baseball player, but around countrymen Ortiz and Ramirez, he is built more like a little brother.
"Everybody in this game needs help, even I need help," Ortiz said. "When you are young and talented like Mo, you like to have people around you who you can learn from. That's why we are here. At one time, we were his age. The same thing happened to us."
Well, sort of.
Born and raised in Laguna Salada in the Dominican Republic (Ortiz and Ramirez are from Santo Domingo), Pena grew up in a modest home with his brother, Hannsel, now a Minor League player with the Reds, and two sisters. He was signed to a Major League contract by the Yankees at the age of 17 in 1998 in a move that later proved to be a blessing and a curse. The good part is that the money helped the Penas out of poverty. The not-so-good part
of the big-money deal was that it rushed his development, exposing him to Major League competition before
he was ready.
At the age of 19 and after only three Minor League seasons, he was traded from the Yankees to Cincinnati as part of a deal that sent Drew Henson to New York in 2001. He made his big-league debut with the Reds in 2002, and hit .218 with 53 strikeouts in 165 at-bats in 2003. Last season, he hit .254 with 19 home runs and 116 strikeouts in 99 games for the Reds.
"When they signed me, the only thing I knew how to do was play baseball," Pena said. "I am still growing up as man and a player. When I came in, I was a child. At times, I still see myself as a child, but when I put on the uniform, I am a man. That's my thing, what I respect and how I want to be respected."
"I hope they give me the opportunity to play every day, but if not, I will wait. I know one day, God willing, I will shine and play every day."
-- Wily Mo Pena
Strong words from a strong man, but Pena admits the transition to the big-league game has not been easy. He shared
playing time in the outfield during his stay in Cincinnati and expected to get his first chance to play every day for the Reds this season before the trade, a move he called, "a surprise."
He looks back on his time with the Reds fondly.
"I did not have a big opportunity to play every day, but in the little opportunity they gave me, I believe I did the job," Pena said. "Cincinnati was like my home. I was there for three years with them in the big leagues and they gave me a chance to be in the big leagues. I am thankful for that."
"My goal this year is to play my game," Pena continued. "I hope they give me the opportunity to play every day, but if not, I will wait. I know one day, God willing, I will shine and play every day."
Pena has no choice but to remain patient. For the Red Sox, he will hit against left-handed pitching and will be used as an extra outfielder. He might play more. He might not.
"He was called up to the big leagues at such a young age that I don't know that anybody knows what his ceiling is," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He's not going to play every day for us, but we are going to try to use him where we can get some protection out of him. Down the road, I don't
think anybody knows what the future holds for him. He might be pretty good."
A little help from Ramirez and Ortiz might help speed up the process. Pena knows that. He also knows he has a lot of work to do before he will reach the star-status enjoyed by his famous teammates.
"Guys like David and Manny have been by my side since I arrived," Pena said. "They treat me really good and that's what I was hoping for. Thank God for that. I'm learning from people who are already up here and that helps."
The help just might earn him a famous nickname or catchphrase one day.