Francisco Pena's big-league debut makes father, Tony, proud

Though his stay in Kansas City figures to last only as long as Sal Perez's bruised hand needs to heal, Francisco Pena finally got a sniff of the big leagues -- right here in the ballpark where he used to goof around while his dad, Tony, was managing the Royals.

Francisco Pena gunned down a would-be base stealer in his big-league debut Tuesday.

Chris Vleisides / Kansas City Royals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For some kids, taking batting practice in a big-league ballpark such as Kauffman Stadium might instantly get them dreaming about actually being a major-league player there someday.

Not so much for Francisco Pena.

Sure, he was thrilled to be hitting at The K when he was just 13. And he loved hanging out at the ballpark with his dad, Tony, the manager of the Royals from 2002-05.

But he admits he wasn't necessarily dreaming about being a Royal.

"To be honest, I never gave it much thought," Francisco said. "I was just happy to be here then. I was a kid. I spent about three summers here. I'd go to school in the Dominican Republic and then I would come here for the summer and just have fun."

Little did Pena know back then that he'd get his first taste of big-league ball right back at Kauffman Stadium. The 24-year-old catcher made his debut Tuesday night, playing the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss to the White Sox.

And while he naturally was disappointed with the loss, Pena will always remember his debut for throwing out the first runner who ever tried to steal off him.

The first thing he thought of after the game was to call his dad. "He was very happy for me," Pena said. "Very proud, he said."

Tony Pena, of course, couldn't be there to see it. As the Yankees' bench coach, he was in Chicago for a series against the Cubs.

"That's what he said his regret was -- he wished he could have seen it live," Francisco said.

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But a television station in Chicago was able to record the game and dispatched a video of the ninth inning to Tony.

"He said he watched it late (Tuesday) night and again (Wednesday) morning," Francisco said, smiling.

And what did papa Pena think of his son's rifle throw to second to nail a would-be base stealer?

"He said, 'You know, you look just like me out there,'" Franciso said. "And I told him, 'No way -- I throw much faster than you!'"

Actually, even before that chat, Tony sent Francisco a text with the video of the throw and a message that read simply, "I love you. Proud of you."

For Francisco, those words were a comfort.

"I was so nervous when I first got in the game," Francisco said, "I just kind of had to stop and take a big breath. I told myself to relax.

"But it was such a tight game and I wanted to play my best to help us win. I wish it could have happened."

Still, being on the field must have brought back memories of his youth, right?

"To be honest, it's better being here now," he said, laughing.

Francisco knows his stay likely won't be long. He's backing up Brett Hayes, who is the backup for Sal Perez, who is nursing a bruised right hand. The Royals expect Perez to be back in the lineup this weekend, which means Pena likely will be headed back to Triple-A Omaha.

It's all fine with Pena, who was signed by the Royals last fall after being released from the Mets' organization.

"I'm just happy to be here now," he said. "It's awesome to be playing here knowing that my dad was a manager here and my brother (Tony Jr.) played here. I like being able to keep that tradition going."

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.