Former Rays All-Star Proud Of Tampa Ties

Don Laible
Carlos Pena had a blast playing for the Tampa Bay Rays. During a recent seven-inning exhibition game at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York, Pena was once again wearing a Rays' uniform. During his 14 MLB seasons, the former first-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers in 1998 played for eight different teams.

But, on this beautiful spring weekend, Pena chose to represent the Rays. Having last suited up for Tampa in the 2012 season, Pena is excited to revisit his experiences when calling Tropicana Field his work address.

"It was an unbelievable experience playing for the Rays. I had my best year of my career there (2007 season), and I was part of the franchise's first winning season."

Of Pena's 14 years of MLB service, the five spent with the Rays was his longest tenure with any of the eight clubs he played for. The "best year of his career" described by Pena saw him earn the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award, as well as collect the league's Silver Slugger Award - given to the best offensive player at his position (first base).

The Rays' 2008 season, one in which the club won its first American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, is also part of Pena's past that he is eager to point out.

"Obviously, it was a season all of us from that team won't forget. It was an amazing time to play in Tampa."

Pena, who in 2008 captured the American League's Rawling's Gold Glove as the best fielding first baseman, attributes much of the club's success leading to their appearance in the Series with the Philadelphia Phillies to the leadership provided by then manager Joe Maddon.

"Arguably, he (Maddon) is one of the best managers of all time. Joe got results."

When pressed for suggestions on how the Rays' home attendance could grow, and the topic of the location for a new stadium for the club to call home, Pena hesitates to answer.

"I wish that I knew," says Pena of where a stadium should go. He does seem to lean towards a stadium to be built "more centrally located" in Tampa.  

Having nothing but compliments to offer on how the Rays' franchise continues to win while operating south of some of the highest player payrolls in all of the MLB, Pena simply labels the organization "great".

As Pena begins to play catch with his fellow MLB alumni prior to the Baseball Hall of Fame Classic game, he laughs as I remind him of his portrayal in the film Moneyball. 

During the 2002 MLB season, Pena played in his first 40 games as a member of the Oakland A's. In the film, actor Brad Pitt, playing the role of real-life A's General Manager Billy Beane, requests his co-star Jonah Hill to inform Pena that he has been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

"The guy they had play me (actor Adrian Bellani) is way more attractive," says Pena. "But, what you see in the film is not exactly how it (being traded) went down. But, it's Hollywood. Changing things should be expected.  The film tells an amazing story of how SABRmetrics infiltrated the game."

Before heading to the dugout designated for Team Fergi (managed by hall of famer Ferguson Jenkins), Pena stops to remember another highlight of his career - Opening Day April 6, 2012.

"This was my best game ever," Pena recalls of his times as a Ray. "I had a really good day against the Yankees' CC Sabathia."

All Pena, who since retiring during the 2014 season as a player has been working for MLB Network as a studio analyst, did at Tropicana Field that game batting against a future hall of fame pitcher was enjoy a phenominal hitting experience.

Three hits (including a three-run homer off of one of the game's best at the time) in five at-bats, five RBIs, and one run scored, still bring a huge smile to Pena's face.

Pena's genuine affection towards Rays' fans and his teammates during his five seasons spent playing in Florida is refreshing. It's a safe bet to think the fans still remember his work ethic for them just as highly.