A closer look: Pena joins the Sox

A closer look: Pena joins the Sox

By Matt Nielsen

The night of August 26, 2006 was a special one for the Pawtucket Red Sox. They were fortunate enough to be playing a game in one of the most hallowed stadiums in sports in front of a near-sellout crowd of enthusiastic fans. In the eighth inning, trailing 4-3 to the Rochester Red Wings at Fenway Park, the Pawsox hit a go-ahead two-run home run, taking a 5-4 lead, and eventually the win. The man who hit it, however, was already having a better day than the rest.

Carlos Pena put an exclamation point on his impressive return to Boston by doubling and swatting a 2-run homer just minutes away from the stadium he played in during his college years.

Pena, a Haverhill native, transferred to Northeastern University from Wright State University (Ohio) before the 1997 season. He had an immediate impact on the baseball team. He garnered all-America East Conference (AE) honors that year, leading the Huskies to the AE title and an NCAA tournament birth.

“You could tell right away that he had tremendous tools,” said Northeastern head baseball coach Neil McPhee. “We weren’t really recruiting first-basemen at the time, but as luck would have it, he transferred in.”

In 1998, Pena continued his stellar play, leading the Huskies in home runs (13) and again gaining all-AE recognition. In his two years at Northeastern, Pena hit .324 with 24 HR and 93 RBI in 100 games played. Pena was selected as the 10th overall pick in the 1998 amateur baseball draft by the Texas Rangers, Northeastern’s highest ever draft-pick to date.

“It’s impossible to predict if a player is going to go to the majors,” coach McPhee said, “but Carlos was a committed athlete and he had all of the psychological, as well as physical makeup every athlete needs. While he was at Northeastern, Carlos improved in every facet of the game.”

After playing briefly for the Rangers in 2001, Pena was traded to the Oakland Athletics before the 2002 season. In Oakland, he was expected to be the long-term solution at first base after Jason Giambi left Oakland for the New York Yankees. However, midway through the 2002 season he was involved in a three-team trade sending pitcher Ted Lilly to Oakland, pitcher Jeff Weaver to New York, and pitcher Jeremy Bonderman, along with Pena to the Detroit Tigers.

Pena spent three and a half years in Detroit, showing good power (75 HR) in what was generally considered a “pitcher’s park.” His best season with Detroit was 2004, when he led the Tigers in HR (27), walks (70), and games played (142).

The Tigers released Pena after the 2005 season and he signed a minor-league contract with the New York Yankees – a contract that allowed Pena an escape clause if he wished to sign with a major league club. On Aug. 17, 2006, after leading the Yankees’ AAA affiliate, the Columbus Clippers with 19 HR and 66 RBI, Pena activated his escape clause to sign with the injury-plagued Boston Red Sox.

Pena’s big night at Fenway Park was his last with the Pawsox, as injuries necessitated his immediate promotion to the Red Sox. He will likely be with the team for the remainder of the regular season, as major league roster expansion in the final month will assure him a spot on the team after Boston’s many injured players return.

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