He has a bat, needs a position
By Dan Shaughnessy, Globe Staff | February 28, 2007
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Where to put Wily Mo Peņa? Right field? Center field? DH? First base? Tight end? Power forward? Bench?
And how to get him 400 at-bats on a team that already has three front-line outfielders, the best DH in baseball, and an everyday first baseman?
Peņa is one of the more intriguing players in the Red Sox clubhouse. He's bigger than John Coffey of "The Green Mile" fame and hits longer home runs than anyone who has ever played at Fenway. Folks are still talking about his 498-foot shot in Cincinnati in 2005, and the 451-foot thunderbolt in Kansas City last summer. And let's not forget the heat-seeking missile he hit at Fenway -- the one that hit the back wall of the Monster seats and bounced almost all the way back to the shortstop.
Pena hit 11 homers in 276 at-bats with the Sox last season, when he missed about six weeks after having surgery on his left wrist. He hit 26 homers in 336 at-bats with the Reds in 2004. He has 62 major league home runs and he's 25 years old. Big league pitchers have virtually stopped throwing fastballs to him.
Then there's his defense. His attempts to play the difficult green acres in right field in Fenway have produced some memorable moments, including Opening Day at Fenway last April when he tipped a Frank Catalanotto fly ball into the visitors' bullpen. Keith Foulke didn't hide his disgust. The replay lives forever.
"I don't care if they show that video," Peņa said yesterday. "When you do something wrong, people just jump on you. They are going to talk about that. What can I do? The fans were nice to me when I was in Boston and I have to be nice to them back.
"They say I look better in center field. I just have to get better in all three positions because last year I played all three and this year is going to be the same thing. That's why I work with DeMarlo [Hale] on defense. I want to get better in right and left field, but center is more easy for me."
"He's done a great job working at it," said manager Terry Francona. "He stays after every day and works with DeMarlo, and his attitude toward getting better has been awesome. And that's what we want him to do. He overthrew a few cutoff men today, but he knows it."
At 6 feet 3 inches, 245 pounds, Peņa is one of the largest men in baseball history to play center field. But he makes for good insurance should Coco Crisp struggle or suffer another injury.
"Wily Mo is our fourth outfielder and hopefully will get a lot of at-bats," said Francona. "But hopefully not too many. That would mean somebody got hurt."
"They've been talking like I'm going to get an opportunity for more at-bats," Peņa said. "I'll be happy if I get 400-something at bats. Last year it was the same thing, but I have to be ready whenever they need me."
He says he has a first baseman's mitt, but he didn't bring it to Florida. Not part of the plan.
Favorite home run last year?
"I guess the one in Kansas City [off Luke Hudson Aug. 8]," he said.
How's he handling the curveball diet?
"It doesn't matter what's coming," he said. "I have to be ready."
Peņa will be in right field tonight when the Sox kick off their Grapefruit League campaign at City of Palms Park against the Minnesota Twins.