Yankee Stadium—In the fourth of a series of monthly press conferences to be held at Yankee Stadium with Spanish speaking reporters, Yankee bench coach Tony Peña met with media representatives on Friday afternoon. The veteran baseball man has garnered a wealth of experience and knowledge in his nearly 40 years in the sport.
Even at the press conference, Peña was assisting one of the Yankees catchers. Russell Martin was scheduled to be the guest but was delayed in the New York City traffic. Without any apparent hesitation, Peña stepped in to replace him.
After several years in the minors, Peña spent 18 seasons in the big leagues. He was a member of six different franchises, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago White Sox and Houston. His capabilities behind the plate were recognized by his being awarded a Gold Glove four times. He was selected to play in five All-Stars Games during his career.
With his great knowledge of the sport, Peña naturally gravitated to on-the-field management. He managed the AAA franchise in New Orleans from 1999-2001. He became the third Dominican born manager in the majors when he took the helm of the Kansas City Royals in 2002. The improvement of the Royals during Peña’s tenure earned him the designation by the BBWAA (Baseball Writers of America) as American League Manager of the Year in 2003.
As happens to nearly every manager, Peña was fired in 2005. He was hired as first base coach for the Yankees in 2006. He is currently the team’s bench coach and catching instructor.
Peña shared his knowledge with reporters in his genial and open manner. He was asked several questions pertaining to the catching situation on the Yankees this season. He had only good words to say about the current catcher, Russell Martin, who was signed as a free agent on December 16, 2010, “He’s impressed me a lot as an All-Star catcher. The pitchers are helped by him. There is no catcher in baseball today who is better at blocking balls. The boy works hard with [Joe] Girardi and me. I’m very happy with him as our catcher.”
When asked about future Yankees catchers such as Jesus Montero, Gustavo Molina and Francisco Cervelli, the experienced former backstop replied, “You don’t hear much of Austin Romine, but I believe he is the total package.”
The Yankees bench coach was asked his opinion of the recent decision to send 24 year old Ivan Nova, who had already compiled eight victories, to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre due to the return of starting pitcher Phil Hughes. Peña relayed the thinking of the organization on the matter, “There is space for him to improve. The organization prefers that he improve in his regular spot in the rotation rather than him not pitching.”
The catching coach answered with a similar response to a question regarding the removal of all catching duties, “Decisions are made each year whether we like them or not. The decisions are made for the team to win. They are executive decisions.”
As his march to achiever 3,000 hits has become the leading recent Yankees story, Peña was asked to assess the Yankees captain as an opposing player and manager and as a current Yankees coach, “When I saw him as an opposing player, I thought he was totally professional. In the six years I’ve been here I have much more respect for him. Every day, he thinks, ‘What can I do to help this team,’”
The gracious, articulate and good humored gentleman displayed his character during the discussion with reporters.
Rookie pitcher Hector Noesi followed Peña for a brief period of questions and answers.
The conference was very ably and professionally moderated by Kenny Leandry of the New York Yankees Media Relations Department. Watching the press conference was Felix Lopez, executive vice president/chief international officer of the Yankees.