Pena a valuable resource for catchers
Yankees bench coach enjoys mentoring backstops
NEW YORK -- Physically and mentally, the position of catcher is widely considered the most taxing job in baseball -- and with good reason. Being a backstop is a special vocation that requires, among other attributes: agility, endurance, judgment and excellent reflexes.
Perhaps no one understands the complexity of the position better than Tony Pena, a former Major League catcher who caught in 1,950 games with six teams from 1980-97.
During a press conference with Spanish-language media at Yankee Stadium, Pena spoke of his work with the current generation of Yankees' catchers in his role as New York's bench coach. He did not hold back the praises when speaking of Francisco Cervelli, the 23-year-old rookie who has undertaken the role of Yankees' starting catcher while Jorge Posada and Jose Molina are on the disabled list. In 85 innings of play this season, including nine starts, Cervelli has yet to commit an error.
"Sometimes, for one person to shine, something has to happen to someone else," said Pena, who has four Gold Gloves to his name. "Defensively, Francisco Cervelli is as good as any other catcher. There are very few catchers who can move behind the plate the way Francisco Cervelli moves."
"He has not allowed a passed ball yet, and that is something we catchers take pride in -- the command of the game," added Pena. "The energy he brings is an extraordinary energy."
Pena also highlighted his strong working relationship with the team's veteran catchers.
"I am honored that [Jose] Molina and Jorge Posada have the confidence to come to me and talk to me and listen to the advice that I can give them," said Pena. "It's not easy finding a catcher who has played 10 years in the big leagues and still wants to learn."
Pena probably doles out plenty of baseball advice in his personal life as well, since both of his sons are also baseball players. Tony Pena Jr. is a shortstop with the Kansas City Royals, and 19-year-old Francisco Pena is a catcher in the Florida State League in the New York Mets' farm system.
"I feel honored that my sons have chosen the career that I love so much. They weren't pushed," said Pena.
"Francisco is playing every day. We are seeing the progress he is having," added the beaming father. "He is throwing everyone out. I am very happy that he is playing the position I love."
The Yankees obviously appreciate Pena's expertise, considering he was one of the candidates interviewed to replace Joe Torre after the 2007 season. The job eventually went to current Yankees' skipper Joe Girardi, also a former catcher.
Although he is focused on his current role with New York, Pena, the 2003 American League Manager of the Year with the Royals, will not deny his desire to manage again in the big leagues.
"It's not that I do not want to manage again," said Pena. "If I said 'no' I would be a big liar. But I understand that I am a bench coach. My job is to help the New York Yankees to be a winner. I am going to do the best I can every single day to help this ball club to win."
"I am the kind of person who has no ego," he added. "I am living in the present and doing what I enjoy doing."
Nathalie Alonso is a contributing writer to LasMayores.com, the Spanish-language Web site for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.