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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Peņa could become very big attraction

He says his mother is kind of short. His father, sister, and brother are big, just like him.

And we mean big. Has anybody ever seen a guy in center field bigger than Wily Mo Peña?

It's an odd sight. You look around the field when the Red Sox set up on defense and you have appropriate-sized people at all the positions. The first baseman is a little short and the third baseman is taller than most, but nothing really jumps out at you until you get to that patch in the middle of the outfield, and there's Wily Mo, looking like a Ford Excursion parked in a lot full of Mini Coopers.

And for the rest of the night, you cannot take your eyes off the guy. At home plate. In the outfield. Even during batting practice. You watch Wily Mo because you might see something you've never seen before. Remember Stephen King's fictional John Coffey in ''The Green Mile"? It's something like that. Wily Mo looks like he's capable of doing anything.

He got off to a rough start in Boston. He tipped a fly ball into the bullpen at the home opener and had several other adventures in right field during the first week at Fenway. Meanwhile, Bronson Arroyo, the popular rock pitcher with the great hair -- the man who was sent out of town to bring Wily Mo to Boston -- was hitting home runs and winning every game he pitched for Cincinnati. Fans were down on Wily Mo.

''He got off to an inauspicious start," conceded Sox manager Terry Francona, who penciled Peña into the sixth spot in the lineup against the Orioles last night. ''He banged that ball over the fence [giving Frank Catalanotto a homer] and some people wanted to throw him off a bridge -- which I thought was a little extreme. Then he didn't play much and didn't make much contact at the plate. Now he's playing and he's doing fine. He's swinging the bat really well."

Wily Mo had two hits and two RBIs in last night's 9-3 victory over the Orioles. He's batting .328 with three homers and 12 RBIs and is at .375 (15 for 40) in his last 10 games. He's also been playing a serviceable center field, no small achievement for a guy built like former Patriot Vincent Brown (6 feet 3 inches, 245 pounds, with less body fat than Oil Can Boyd). And he is having fun. The guy absolutely loves playing for the Red Sox.

''I'm enjoying Boston, so far," said the 24-year-old native of the Dominican Republic. ''I love how the people focus on baseball. They just go crazy for baseball here every night. When a lot of people come to the ballpark, I love that. I would love to be here a long, long time."

Wily Mo has a chance to become a cult hero at Fenway. He's already interacting with the bleacher creatures, and it's only going to get better for him when he unleashes a couple of 450-foot homers. He swings a 33-ounce, 35-inch bat, and it goes through the zone at the speed of sound. The Mass. Pike eastbound lane is certainly within reach if he can bounce a couple off the garage roof across from the Monster.

Longest homer so far?

''In Cincinnati last year," he said. ''Against Houston. I don't know the pitcher [it was Brandon Duckworth]. They said it went 498 feet, but everybody knows it was more than that."

''In batting practice, he hits balls as far as I've ever seen 'em hit," said Trot Nixon.

Peña does not try to put on a show in batting practice. He's been working on hitting the ball to right because he gets pitched away. Many of his hits with the Red Sox have been to the opposite field. David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and hitting coach Ron Jackson are among those reminding him to be selective at the plate, but Francona said, ''We just want our guys to swing at strikes."

Sox first base coach Bill Haselman, who has been working with Peña on his defense, said, ''He's a great kid with a great personality. He looks so big and mean, but then you talk with him and you realize he listens and tries to do everything he's asked to do. He had some trouble at first in right, but this is the toughest right field in baseball and anybody would have trouble out there. He looks like he's more comfortable in center. He's got all the tools."

He knows he'll lose playing time when Coco Crisp returns, but he says, ''I just have to do everything I can do to stay ready for when I get another chance."

What else can we tell you? Wily Mo signed his first professional contract with the Mets when he was 16 years old, and he was once traded for Drew Henson -- the same guy who shared quarterbacking duties with Tom Brady at Michigan. He's living in Newton, and after some early trouble navigating our streets (like trying to play right field at Fenway), he's mastered his commute from Exit 17 off the turnpike.

Comfortable? Last week he did a morning call-in on a local (non-sports) radio station. ''I don't speak English good enough yet," he said. ''But that was fun. I love the people here, how they are and how they cheer for their team."

It's only the beginning for Wily Mo. He's destined to be big in Boston.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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