Dream year has Pena on Aaron ballot
Journeyman among nominees for Hall of Famer's annual honor
ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena is on pace to hit more than 30 home runs this season. Not bad for a non-roster invitee.
The Devil Rays first baseman became a last-minute addition to the roster at the end of Spring Training when Greg Norton hurt his knee. Now, Pena is the team's feel-good story of the year.
"It's funny -- it might be repetitive, because I've said it so many times, but I'm just so grateful," Pena said. "I couldn't be happier."
For his contribution this season, Pena is the Rays' nominee for the Henry Aaron Award.
Since 1999, Major League Baseball has recognized the best offensive performer from each league with the Hank Aaron Award, presented by Sharp. Past recipients include Barry Bonds (three times), Alex Rodriguez (three times), Manny Ramirez (twice), David Ortiz, Andruw Jones, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Sammy Sosa and Carlos Delgado. Last year's winners, selected during balloting in the regular season's final month on MLB.com, were New York's Derek Jeter and Philadelphia's Ryan Howard.
"This is what I've always dreamed of, being out here performing, helping my teammates in the Major Leagues," Pena said. "If you asked me if this season has been a surprise, I'd tell you it hasn't been a surprise. But I am glad that it's happened. I'm ecstatic that I've been able to help the team. It's been a great year. It's been so much fun."
Pena believes that the secret to his success has been his ability to keep things simple.
"The ability to keep it simple is not as easy as it seems," Pena said. "More than any other time in my career, I've been able to enjoy the game, have fun and keep it as simple as, 'See the ball and trust your hands and your ability.' And I think when I do that, I'm at my best."
Pena points out that when he's struggling, that approach gets "corrupted."
"Clouded," Pena said. "It might just be a pitch they got you with. You start kind of overanalyzing it instead of just saying, 'Hey, I've got my approach no matter what.' It's a commitment."
Pena's approach is contagious, according to teammate Jonny Gomes.
"The main thing that he's bringing to us every day is his positive outlook on life and the game and success and failure," Gomes said. "He was a real big guy for me in my corner at the beginning of the year when things weren't going so well for me. He was always like, 'Stay positive, stay positive.' I never wanted to quit, but I wanted to explode, start yelling at people. And he was like, 'Wait it out, wait it out -- it will come.' He was a real good guy to have in my corner."
Pena has wandered along the baseball landscape the past several years with Major League stints in Detroit and Boston and Minor League stints in Toledo, Columbus and Pawtucket. Though he has struggled at times, Pena has remained positive. Now that his career seems to have traveled full circle, he feels that his positive approach has been affirmed.
"There is evidence that supports that this is a good approach," Pena said. "You're going to get upset. You're going to get frustrated. You want to beat the other guy so bad. Then when it doesn't happen, it does frustrate you. But overall in the scheme of things, staying positive is a key to success."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.