09/22/08 12:00 AM ET
Pena's hot bat earns Aaron nomination
Rays first baseman on the ballot for offensive honor
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
After a slow start in 2008, the Rays first baseman has been on fire in the second half of the season. His 29 RBIs in August paced a torrid month that saw the Rays win 21 games. And in September, Pena's clutch hitting has been a constant.
Recent highlights include the go-ahead three-run homer he hit off Mike Timlin in a 4-2 Rays win over the Red Sox on Sept. 10 at Fenway Park. His encore came less than a week later, when he hit the game-tying home run off Josh Beckett in a 2-1 Rays win over the Red Sox on Sept. 16.
Ever since Pena became a last-minute addition to the roster at the end of Spring Training in 2007, he has been a mainstay of the team's offense and a poster boy for what the Rays want to be about.
For his contribution this season, Pena is the Rays' nomination for the Major League Baseball Hank Aaron Award presented by Sharp.
This coveted honor is awarded annually to the best overall offensive performer in each league, with each club having a nominee. Fans can vote from Monday until Sunday, Oct. 12 to select the winner in each league. The winners will be announced prior to Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday, Oct. 26. Last year's winners were Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Originally introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, the Hank Aaron Award was the first major award to be introduced in 30 years.
Pena believes 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 seeing the ball and trusting 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 has wandered along the baseball landscape the past several years with stints in Detroit, Triple-A Toledo, Triple-A Columbus, Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston. Though he has struggled at times, he 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.