Francisco Pena remembers watching his dad Tony Pena stretch out his leg while awaiting a pitch, and knew from that point he would like to emulate his dad one day.
Now, the younger Pena hopes to one day reach the majors just like his old man did as a five-time All-Star and four time Gold Glove winner at catcher during an 18-year career with Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston, Cleveland, the Chicago White Sox and Houston.
“When I was little, I was just watching him play every day,” Pena said before a recent Dominican winter league game with Aguilas Cibaenas, the team managed by his father, who is currently the Yankees bench coach. “I was trying to do that stance he used to do with his leg out. That was my dream. Now my dream is to play in the big leagues. I just have to keep working hard to get there.”
Pena was signed by the Mets in July 2006 for $750,000 at age 16. (Jesus Montero was signed by the Yankees that same period for $1.6 million.) Pena was assigned the following year to the club’s low-Class A South Atlantic League affiliate in Savannah, where he caught 81 of 103 games in which he played. He returned to Savannah to catch 92 of 105 games the following season. He spent the 2009 season with at Class A St. Lucie and was behind the plate for all 100 games he saw action in.
The 20-year-old almost missed the entire 2010 season, playing in only 20 games due to a stress fracture in his right foot. He has a career .237 minor league average and .282 on-base percentage in four minor league seasons.
The Mets will have Josh Thole as their starting catcher and just signed Ronny Paulino. And Pena figures to open the 2011 season in St. Lucie or Double-A Binghamton.
Pena has only nine hits in 48 at-bats in winter ball. He’s been spending time working on the catcher’s position with his father when they’re at their home ballpark in Santiago, getting to the stadium earlier than usual before games.
“He lets me call the games,” Pena said. “I do a lot on my own. I learn a lot with him. I get a little bit more time and we get to the field early and work on every little stuff we need to work on. It’s a good experience playing for my dad. It’s not easy. You have to do your job to maintain your place in the lineup.
“I know I’m still young. I just want to play. I had an injury last year and I could not play much. I’m getting my playing time here in the Dominican and that will help me with the Mets in spring training.”