SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Wily Mo Pena #16 of the Arizona Diamondbacks sits in the dugout during a game against the Colorado Rockies at Salt River Fields on February 26, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona.. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Wily Mo Pena is a gentle giant with a hell of a memory. That may not mean much to you, but it means something to someone.
Wily Mo Pena didn't save anybody's life. Or maybe he did, at some point. But I'm not going to tell you about a time that Wily Mo Pena saved somebody's life. I'm going to tell you about a time that Wily Mo Pena made a friend of mine happy.
Her name is Shannon, and she's the girlfriend of this guy, named Red. She doesn't get a lot of time in the spotlight. I'm not sure she's even in the spotlight here. But, for once, she's closer than he is.
Shannon has been a fan of Wily Mo Pena since 2007, which doesn't seem like a long time, but is, when you consider that means she's currently on her fifth year of being a fan of Wily Mo Pena. Pena hasn't done a whole lot lately. But in 2007, he was a National, and when Shannon and Red were at a game in DC, she bought a blank jersey and asked him what name to put on the back. He suggested Pena's, and that's where it all began.
It sounds like a silly reason to turn into a fan, but they're all silly reasons that we turn into fans, and almost immediately a connection was formed. Wily Mo Pena was one of Shannon's favorite players.
Fast forward to June 2008. I'm in Seattle, sitting with Shannon and Red right behind home plate. The Nationals are in town to play the Mariners, and Wily Mo is starting at DH. We get to our seats while players are milling around on the field before the game, and through a friend of mine who's friends with Pena, we get him to come over.
He didn't stay and chat at length, but he stayed longer than he had to, and he didn't need to visit at all. He went out of his way, and he gave Shannon one of those life memories you just don't forget, like...well like when you meet one of your favorite athletes.
That would've been enough. Shannon had her memory, her pictures and her hug. But fast forward to 2010. Pena had long since been dropped by the Nationals after struggling and undergoing surgery. He was signed to the Mets' triple-A affiliate and then dropped in June 2009. So he signed with an independent team in Bridgeport, with whom he remained until signing with the Padres' triple-A affiliate in Portland in July 2010.
Pena found a spot in the middle of the Beavers' lineup for the final weeks of the season, and one weekend Shannon and Red drove down from Seattle to watch him, since Shannon was still a devoted fan. After one of the games, they hung around on the field for a little while, with Shannon having won a Pena jersey that was auctioned off. Pena emerged from the dugout expecting to sign a jersey for some anonymous stranger, but the people he saw instead were very much not strangers. They were people he remembered from two years before.
The pictures say everything that needs to be said, really. Shannon grinned, Wily Mo grinned, and they exchanged a hug you give a loved one who's back from the war. They visited on the field for some time, and the way the story's been relayed to me, between Shannon and Pena I'm not sure who loves the other one more.
After the 2010 season, the Beavers moved, and Pena wound up with the triple-A Reno Aces. Not long ago the Aces made a trip to Tacoma, a series Shannon and Red attended. They got tickets behind the Reno dugout, and Pena - who was DH'ing - remembered them again and shot the shit between at bats. Minor league baseball's a different animal from Major League Baseball. In the majors, players can't shoot the shit with fans between at bats. They're probably not supposed to in the minors, either, but everything's more casual in the minors, and there's a little more personality. Pena's is a good kind of personality.
Wily Mo Pena's joining the Diamondbacks now. It's hard to say he hasn't earned it, as he's slugged .726 over 63 games. Reno's a hitter-friendly ballpark in a hitter-friendly league, but Pena's still been outstanding, and the DBacks need a DH for an interleague swing. He probably won't be up long. He's a limited player, especially for an NL team. But for however long he's in uniform, I know he'll have one woman's undivided attention. We all have players we love for the things they do on the field. Shannon's love for Wily Mo - he got that love by chance, but he earned that love by being an awesome son of a bitch.