Photo by AP Photo/Morry Gash
By Rich Mancuso
Ramiro Peña is taking advantage of his starting role in the infield of the San Francisco Giants and for a 31-year old veteran he will take it. Eight years with the New York Yankees organization between Triple-A Scranton /Wilkes-Barre and the big club in the Bronx,there was never a starting role in the infield with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter commanding the left side of a lucrative infield.
But the Yankees, knowing that Pena was never going to be a part of their plan, released the switch hitting native of Monterrey Mexico. A year later, Pena landed a roster spot with the Atlanta Braves a a lingering hamstring injury did not help his cause to be a part of the Braves plans in their rebuilding stages.
And with another lesson learned, this time with the Braves, Pena was acquired this past offseason by the Giants after spending all of 2015 in the San Diego Padres minor league system. Enter 2016, and the Giants were primarily going to have Pena as a versatile backup infielder
The advantage came when infielder Joe Panik sustained a concussion a few weeks ago. Manager Bruce Bochy had the proper approach to fill a void as panik works his way back.
“Being on the bench isn’t easy,” he said this week prior to the Giants coming to the Bronx for a three-game series against his former Yankee team. “Right now I’ve still got the feeling of being able to play every day. I got rhythm, I got everything. It’s good.”
Friday night in the Bronx, Pena went hitless in four at bats and struck out twice as the Giants came up short, 3-2. The .329 average at the plate and handling the plays at third and second, he says, come now because getting to the ballpark every day brings that motivation of seeing his name in the starting lineup.
It is taking advantage of that opportunity, and Pena is enjoying every minute of his stay in the lineup.
Except for an occasional start when one of the elite Yankees needed a day off or hit the disabled list, Peña compiled 72 hits, hit two home runs and drove in 32 runs in his tenure with New York. They were not the greatest numbers, however, as Peña says, the Yankees gave him the needed experience to be where he is today. The Braves acquired as a free agent, signing him to a one-year deal.
To say the least, going from pinstripes to Atlanta at the time was a perfect marriage. There were no bitter feelings about his time in New York. In fact, Peña talks very kind about how Yankees manager Joe Girardi handled his situation off the bench.
“One of the things I learned from Joe and the Yankees is to be strong and be ready,” Pena said. When the Yankees released him, there was a new opportunity with no sulking or talk about giving up. When you reach the Major League level, there is no stepping back The Braves had been looking for a utility infielder, and always thought highly about his talents.
“I heard they were looking at me for a long time,” he said. “I got a call and was very pleased.”
He reported to spring training in Kissimmee Florida. But another important task was at hand. Two weeks later, he like many other major league ballplayers reported to practice facilities for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. For Peña, it was national pride and an honor to play for the Mexican team in the WBC tournament and he looks forward to being a participant again for the next WBC tournament in March of 2017.
It was also difficult, temporarily leaving his new surroundings. Acclimating to new teammates, coaching staff, and manager, trying to fit in are not an easy task, even if Pena was vying for a spot on the 25-man roster.
But, these new surroundings with the Giants are doing him well. And, it is taking advantage of a an opportunity that means so much to a young veteran.
He said about that WBC experience,“The last day was not easy, but I am proud I was there,” about Mexico getting an early exit from the WBC going 1-2, including a loss to Italy.
By far, his proudest moment was the champagne celebration in the Yankees clubhouse, in the Bronx on a cold October evening in 2009. That was the inaugural season for the new Yankee Stadium, and for Peña a ring and first World Series championship.
To that moment, Peña smiled and said, “I talk to Cervelli (Francisco) and Cano (Robinson).” Those were two of the three closest teammates that shared the celebration with him in the Yankees’ clubhouse that evening, the other being right handed pitcher Sergio Mitre.
When Panik eventually returns. Pena is expected to still get playing time. Whether it be an occasional start or off the bench, Pena has earned it. And with the Giants in an even year, he could get another World Series ring as their previous two and latest championships came in 2012 and 2014.
“Good to be back in New York,” he said. And with that great memories in the Bronx that made him adjust to his new team and role.