Brayan Pena appreciates opportunity with Reds
MAY 25, 2014 6:02p ET
CINCINNATI -- If Brayan Pena isn't smiling, he isn't among the living. It is impossible to catch the Cincinnati Reds catcher without smile. Try to sneak up on him. Try to peek around the corner when he isn't looking. He is still smiling.
Asked if he smiled instead of crying when the doctor smack him the moment he was born he said, "I believe so." And he smiled.
The 32-year-old Pena, born in Havana, Cuba, was signed by the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent on November 20 of last year to be a back-up catcher and pinch-hitter. And he has been smiling ever since.
He has done the catching and the pinch-hitter with illustrious results. . .and more. First baseman Joey Votto is on the disabled list and although the only time Pena spent around first base was to stand on it after a base hit, manager Bryan Price asked him to grab a first baseman's mitt and cover the bag.
"I'm only a renter," he said. "I'm renting first base from Joey Votto until he gets back."
Nevertheless, on Friday night, Pena made a play against the St. Louis Cardinals that most accomplished first baseman only dream about executing. Matt Holliday drilled one over the first base bag-- destination, right field corner. Pena, a right hander, dove to his left. After flopping belly-down on the ground he backhanded the ball. The stop was amazing. The rest was surreal. While still on the ground, face down, Pena made a backhanded flip of the baseball right on the bag where pitcher Jonathan Broxton could catch it for the out.
Making it huge was the fact it saved a sure double in a game the Reds won, 4-3. The next day Pena was out at first base at 3:30 in the afternoon taking 100 ground balls, hit hard at his feet by coach Freddie Benavides from about 25 feet away.
He smiled broadly as he talked, just as he smiled wall-to-wall after making the play, a play so good that Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips held out his glove and said, "Come on over here and play second base, too."
That play happened in the eighth inning and by the ninth Pena was out of the game, replaced at first base by rookie Neftali Soto, a natural first baseman. How could that happen after a play like that, how could manager Bryan Price take him out?
"He knew that was a lucky play, a reaction play that I didn't have time to think about," said Pena "That's a smart manager right there."
Of his perma-press smile, Pena said, "It's all about how much I appreciate life, how much I appreciate my opportunity in this country, how much I appreciate my family, my wife, my kids and everybody around me."
"It is all about not wanting any negativity around me," he said. "I don't deal in negatives. If you are going to be around me you better be positive."
It was easy to see Pena working out at first base, taking ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. What isn't visible is the work he does in the bullpen early in the day, too.
"I work out there on my catching," he said. "That's my job. That's what I get paid to do. So I catch pitchers in the bullpen, I work on blocking balls and making throws. I need to do that because thatâs my position. Then I work at first base. It is a position I've never played and I need to do that work, too."
Pena has become a Fan Favorite because he exudes pure pleasure in playing the game of baseball after escaping Cuba as a teen-ager, leaving his family behind, only to find out later that his parents both lost their jobs because of his defection.
While many players consider the media a nuisance, something with which they have to put up with, Pena credit the media with his quick popularity in Cincinnti.
"The media accepted me right away, considering me one of their own, even though I didn't come up through the Cincinnati organization. They have treated me great. That's why I always have time for you guys, whether we win or lose, whether I do good or bad. I have to be a stand-up guy through the bad as well as the good."
So far there hasn't been anything bad surrounding Pena. And if something negative does happen, donât expect the smile to be wiped off Penaâs face.