He took longer than expected for a first-round pick, but Carlos Pena established himself in the majors with Tampa Bay — his sixth organization — by hitting 46 homers and driving in 121 runs in 2007. His agent, Scott Boras, made a three-year, $24.125 million deal with the Rays, who had some bedrock on which to build what would become a World Series team. The money was nice, but Pena appreciated finding a home. As a teenager with his family Pena had made a traumatic move, from his birthplace in the Dominican Republic, to New England. As he would in baseball, Pena handled the changes with grace because of an open and hungry mind.
Few people have Pena's reputation for friendliness, intelligence and good humor. This interview started in late September, with the Rays about to clinch the AL East and finished in early March, in spring training. But so affable is Pena, once he does get down to business, it's easy to realize why you waited.
David Brown: In a San Francisco Chronicle story, you were quoted as saying, "When I'm in a bookstore, I think every book is talking to me."
CP: [Laughs]. No, no, of course. Somebody had asked me why I liked to go to the bookstore or libraries and stuff and it really is because I like books. That's what it is. Someone's telling a story, expressing a point of view and I like that. They're quoting history. That's what books are all about. Every one is trying to tell you something. All you have to do is pick the one you want to listen to.
DB: So, you didn't say that just to get chicks?
CP: [Pause... laughs]. Does it get me chicks?
(Editor's note: I overlooked the following question in transcribing my original notes from the interview, but add it here to help give context to Carlos' answer):
DB: Did it (in the past)?
CP: I'm very happily married, and I didn't meet my wife (Pamela) at a bookstore, so it obviously didn't help me that much then.
DB: It's pretty deep.
CP: Yeah, but you know what? That's me, though. I would say I'm a thoughtful man, by no means superficial. At the same time, I'm light-hearted and fun-loving, you know?
DB: What's on your recommended reading list today?
DB: Are you a Borders guy or a Barnes & Noble guy?
CP: Barnes & Noble. It's a little bit less commercial, it has more of an old-school feel, maybe more of a library feel. Borders seems more mainstream. Barnes & Noble seems to have more of an antique feel to it. Classy feel.
DB: There's Internet video of you signing a guy's taco at spring training and you say, "That's the weirdest thing I've ever done in my life." Why do you think autographing a taco is strange, Carlos?
CP: [Laughs]. Well, because tacos are really to eat. You're not supposed to get it signed. It's one of those weird ingredients to get some flat marker ink on it. So, yeah, it's one of the coolest things anyone has asked me to sign. And the weirdest at the same time.
DB: Did you read the taco before signing it, as your attorneys would advise?