Partly because I consider myself a fair dude, but mostly because I need to maintain some sort of control on the vitriol that is overflowing my Inbox, I offer a mea culpa to Wily Mo Pena. Although if the rather innocent critique I wrote the other day was considered too cruel by the new standards of lollipop and gumdrop fairy tale members of a kinder, gentler Red Sox Nation, I’m going to need to spend more time at sensitivity training this summer than at the Sausage King.
Wily Mo hit a home run last night in Boston’s 8-4 loss to Toronto. OK, it was a bomb. Happy? I suppose it was silly to concern myself with his track record.
Pena had a tough day Tuesday in the Fenway opener, striking out swinging on three pitches and making a blunder in the field that went for a two-run home run off the bat of Frank Catalanotto. After he followed that play with back-to-back fly ball catches in right, the Fenway faithful sarcastically cheered him on. Pena, afterwards, didn’t get it, assuming the fans were simply tossing their unmitigated support toward him. That wasn’t the case, then. The story has changed somewhat since.
After the game, I dared to point out that Pena had struck out three times in five at-bats, on nine pitches, each of which he lunged at. I dared to point out a similar defensive play Pena made last season as a member of the Reds at Fenway Park, helping a Manny Ramirez line drive over the wall for a homer. I dared to point out that Bronson Arroyo, the man who was traded for Pena, had two more home runs. I actually received an e-mail berating me for not knowing that Arroyo wouldn’t be hitting here anyway. Um, thanks.
We all know that Pena arrives in Boston more a package of potential than five-tool superstar. The man is going to have his problems in the field, and he definitely is going to have his issues at the plate. But when he hits the ball, we’re told, he hits the ball hard. We bore witness to that last night with a missile to dead center. You can imagine the “told ya so’s” that filtered in this morning.
From a URI email address: “WHATS IT LIKE TO BE A SPORTS REPORTER THAT DOESNT KNOW THE LEAST THING ABOUT ANYTHING..."WILLY MO WOES...."-WORST ARTICLE, THAT WAS ABSOLUTE GARBAGE...CORRECT ME THE READER IF IM WRONG BUT IM PRETTY CONFIDENT WILLY MO PENA HIT A BOMB TO CENTER TODAY...OOPS WERE YOU WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING...YES....GO PRINT YOUR OPINIONS ELSEWHERE....”
This is where we’d normally have some potshot at the URI grammar department, but that would be, you know, negative.
Here’s hoping Pena puts it together. He’s not and will not be, as one reader put it, “the new whipping boy.” Pena is young with a ton of untapped talent. The problem with him is the deal he signed with the Yankees at age 17, which meant that he ran out of minor league options at a much too young an age. This kid has had to learn at the big league level, something that is near impossible to do without the benefit of a 500 at-bat season. There will be plenty of good nights for Pena throughout the year, but fans need to understand, there are going to be ones like Tuesday as well.
For the sake of fairness, we’ll just ignore those in the future.
Because if Wily Mo does struggle this season, striking out at a rate that would make Mark Bellhorn blush, I am sure that the ever-balanced fans at Fenway will stay true to their “give him time” stance. Bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, down by a run in a mid-August game against the Yankees, and Pena’s up. He strikes out, and I’m sure he gets the old college try from the bleachers instead of exasperation, departing fans pointing out to their fellow patrons that, “He’s a work in progress. Just give him time.” I give it 11 seconds before anyone saying that in such a situation gets slugged.
But at least in this space, we’re going to overlook Pena’s deficiencies and focus on the positive, something I guess we failed to do earlier this week even if we professed admiration for these Red Sox the very day before. To be honest, I’ve never witnessed such a knee-jerk rise to defense than I have this week in regard to Pena. He is apparently the new favorite son of the Nation, before he has done a thing.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. I’m just going to have a big laugh when the same folks are ripping into him come June. We’ll stay away from it, or any negativity for that matter. We’ve been warned. Maybe I’ll spend the summer working on a gingerbread house or something down by the beach.
Wily Mo Pena and the Red Sox may very well have a Happily Ever After in their future, and I’m sure the faithful members of Red Sox Nation will be just hunky-dory with the peaks and valleys along the way. No jeers, no sarcastic cheers.
“He’s a work in progress, after all. Give him a chance.” That’s my mantra for the rest of 2006. It’s Red Sox Nation’s, too. At least this week. We’ll see you in May for the other side of the story.