07/12/09 12:46 PM ET
Pena headed to All-Star Game, Derby
Rays first baseman replaces Boston's Pedroia on roster
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who was elected as a starter by the fans, pulled out of the game late Saturday night due to a family issue. Needing a replacement, Rays manager Joe Maddon, who will manage the AL team, selected Pena to take Pedroia's place.
"As the home run leader in the American League, I thought [Pena] deserved this opportunity, so that's how we went with it," Maddon said. "I would have to believe that whoever is leading the league in home runs normally belongs in the All-Star Game."
Pena got the news at approximately 2 a.m. ET on Sunday after his wife noticed that he had a series of missed calls from Maddon. After returning the call, Pena received the good news from his manager.
"I was in a state of shock," Pena said. "I don't hesitate to say this is a miracle, for me, it's an obvious miracle; it's an obvious miracle, so I don't even hesitate to say that. I'm extremely grateful for this. Joe gets another opportunity to pick someone to come to the game and he picks me. It means the world to me."
Pena, who was a Final Vote candidate for this year's game, entered Sunday as the AL's leading home run hitter with 24. This marks Pena's first career All-Star selection. The ninth-year Major Leaguer is the 28th first-time All-Star selected to the 2009 Midsummer Classic. Pena, a 2008 Rawlings Gold Glove winner, entered Sunday hitting .230 with 58 walks, along with 58 RBIs and 61 runs scored.
Pena's addition to the team gives the Rays five players on the team and means that Tampa Bay's entire infield is represented on the team. Ben Zobrist has been the team's regular second baseman since Akinori Iwamura went on the disabled list earlier in the season.
Pena couldn't hide his excitement about becoming a contestant in the home run-hitting contest.
"I thought that it would be only fitting for me to experience the whole entire thing," Pena said. "This is a huge deal to me. I'm not going to even pretend to play it cool or professional. I'm in shock. I've called half the world."
Pena wouldn't make any predictions about what might happen in the contest.
"The last three years, in batting practice, I've totally just forgotten about hitting home runs in batting practice," Pena said. "And the ones that I do hit, I try to hit them the other way. So it's something that I totally haven't practiced in years, to actually pull a ball for a home run. But who cares, I just want to be in it."
In a statement issued Sunday by Major League Baseball and the Red Sox, Pedroia said after consulting with his wife, Kelli, manager Terry Francona, general manager Theo Epstein and Phyllis Merhige of Major League Baseball, he decided to withdraw from this year's All-Star Game as they tend to a serious family health matter.
"This was certainly not an easy decision," Pedroia said in the statement. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for the game of baseball and for the All-Star Game and am incredibly honored that the fans voted me this year's starting second baseman for the American League. I am disappointed that I will not be able to enjoy the amazing experience with the other All-Stars, especially with my Red Sox teammates, but it is important that I put my family first at this time. I want to thank Major League Baseball as well as Tito and Theo for supporting me in this decision and I would like to thank the fans for their understanding and the continued support they have shown throughout my career."
Said Maddon: "I fully understand Dustin's decision as he tends to a family matter. We wish Dustin and his family the very best."
Pena felt for Pedroia.
"I don't know exactly what happened with him, I'm not sure, and obviously I would never rejoice at anyone's misgivings, so I hope that everything is OK with his family, obviously, because that is the most important thing," Pena said. "I will assume everything will be fine. I'm extremely humbled by this opportunity. I really am."
The 80th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.