By Hal McCoy
Dayton Daily News
SARASOTA, Fla. | Wily Mo Pena's hair is short, the long curls he wore last year shaved off so that he is nearly a skinhead, and there are scraggly whiskers on his chin.
He is 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, with upper arms that look as if they came off a box of Arm & Hammer baking soda, so whatever Pena wants to do most people smile and say, "Yes, sir, Mr. Pena, whatever you want."
His appearance isn't all Pena says will be different in 2006.
As he leaned against a batting cage during Cincinnati Reds workouts Thursday morning, somebody said, "What do you think, about 30 homers and 100 RBIs this year?"
A large smile spread across his face and he said, "No, no. Not 30 home runs. More home runs."
More home runs?
"More home runs."
Pena said he can't wait for fans to witness the new, improved Wily Mo Pena, the one that developed this winter in the Dominican Republic Winter League.
"You'll see," he said. "Much different, much better. My swing is better. If I take the same approach I had in the D.R., everybody is going to see. More home runs. I was taking a lot of pitches, not swinging at bad pitches, getting my pitches to hit. And I was hitting balls all over the field."
Then he stepped into the batter's box to face Aaron Harang and flipped a little flare into short right field.
"That's a home run," he said. "Inside the ball park."
Pena bounced around the three outfield spots last year like a red rubber ball and hit 19 home runs last year in 311 at-bats, some of which had to be tracked by GPS.
"I hit 11 home runs in about 100 at-bats in the D.R.," he said, "And four in the playoffs."
What makes the 24-year-old outfielder so confident is that it looks as if he is going to play more and it looks as if he has found a home in left field.
With the trade of first baseman Sean Casey and the switch of left fielder Adam Dunn to first base, the plan is to put Pena in left field. No longer is he arguing with Austin Kearns over right field or waiting for days Ken Griffey Jr. doesn't play so he can man center field.
It is general knowledge that Pena's defense is suspect and his glove has problems getting through airport metal detectors.
Manager Jerry Narron isn't worried about it and neither is Pena, who played right field in the Dominican. Narron's theory is that Pena was moved around so much that he couldn't get comfortable in a position. He says that will change this spring, that Pena will play left field, left field, left field and, for variety, left field. And there will be extra work.
"He is willing to work," said Narron. "Anybody who says he is not willing to work hasn't been around enough to say that. I'm sure the last couple of years when he didn't play and we switched him around so much, he got frustrated and said to himself, 'Why bother?' It's not because he is lazy."
Pena was, indeed, frustrated the last couple of years about his situation, so frustrated that at one point late last season he said if he couldn't play every day he would like to be traded.
"All I want is a chance, an opportunity, to show what I can do," he said. "I can't do that when I'm not playing."
The opportunity has arrived.
"I've had to be patient here, wait for my chance," he said. "This year is my opportunity. They are giving me the chance. This is the year I have to do it, show 'em.
"As for left field, I know they are going to help me a lot and I just have to listen to them and learn," he added.
During one turn in the batting cage Thursday, Pena took four straight pitches from Harang as Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench watched from behind.
"What is this, an eye test?" said Bench.
Pena walked out of the cage and said, "Last year I might have swung at all four of those pitches, which weren't good pitches. This year? Patience, my friend, patience."
Pena is well-versed in patience.