Pena ready to follow family footsteps

Son of former Major Leaguer working out at Mets' minicamp

(Craig Jones/Getty)

By Kevin T. Czerwinski / | January 11, 2007 8:52 AM

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Francisco Pena grew up hanging out in clubhouses and on the fields of Major League parks watching his father, Tony, play and manage with and alongside some of the game's best players.

Yet when the 17-year-old catcher walked into the Mets' Minor League clubhouse Wednesday morning for his first official minicamp, he took a step back. He was no longer just Tony's kid. He was part of an organization now, a member of the team, and the emotion of the day was something he won't soon forget.

"It was pretty exciting just to be here," said Pena, whom the Mets signed for $750,000 in July. "To be here, in the clubhouse, with guys like David Wright and Pedro Martinez, to take my first batting practice outside ... I was nervous. I've been around some big players, but these are now big players, and I'm one of their teammates.

"When my dad was in Kansas City, I was just a son, no one took me seriously. But now I'm standing next to Pedro Martinez and I'm like, 'Oh my God!' Here is this Cy Young Award winner and I'm his teammate. It was pretty different. It was a big step for me, but I'm proud of myself for being here."

The Mets are pretty proud as well to have landed such a quality young catcher. When the club lost Jesus Flores in December's Rule 5 Draft, Pena immediately shot to the top of the club's catching depth chart, despite the fact that he's still a teenager. Pena spent last summer working out in St. Lucie with the Gulf Coast Mets and at the club's Dominican Summer Academy, and he has yet to play in an official game.

But now that he's 17 -- he reached that magic milestone on Oct. 12 -- Pena is eligible to break camp with a Minor League club. And the Mets have every reason to be excited about what he can do considering the success of the 17-year-olds that made their organizational debuts last summer.

Outfielder Fernando Martinez is considered the club's best overall prospect and played at three levels, finishing in the Florida State League. Right-hander Deolis Guerra also finished up the season with St. Lucie, leaving many in the organization wondering how quickly Pena can move along. He's already being touted as a polished hitter with an arm close to being Major League-ready.

Pena, whose brother, Tony Jr., made his Major League debut last year with Atlanta, isn't quite ready to rush things along, though. He has no idea where he'll start this season, but it wouldn't be surprising if he's in Class A Savannah of the South Atlantic League at some point.

"I just want to do my work and show everyone what I can do," Pena said. "I'm here and I'm having fun, and that's important. I don't want to try and do too much, because that's not me. I just want to do my work and do the best I can at it."

Pena said he talks to his father every day, checking in and getting advice. He's living on his own while he's away from home, too. Though that sounds like an open invitation for trouble for most teenagers, Pena isn't like most teenagers. He's too focused on becoming a better ballplayer to let anything distract him from reaching his goal of playing in the Major Leagues.

"I'm on my own," he said. "My dad told me to be a man."

Pena already has a man-like build, standing at 6-foot-2 and tipping the scales at over 200 pounds. He likes to joke about comparisons between himself and his father, who hit .260 and won four Gold Gloves during an 18-year career.

"I ask him a lot of questions about catching," Pena said. "He told me that at my age I have a better arm than he did. We'll see who's going to be the best. I think I'm going to be a better hitter than him, but it will be close with the catching."

Pena said that finishing high school is a priority for him. The club, as part of the deal Pena signed, would pay for any additional schooling, but the youngster points out that right now he simply doesn't have the time. He's playing baseball almost constantly.

"This is my work now," he said. "I'm not happy about [not finishing school]. But I play ball, and that's what I like to do. It's my work."

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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