Attention, Cincinnati, there's a new B.P. in town.
No, not Brandon Phillips, who just returned from a thumb injury. His Reds teammate, Brayan Pena.
And while no one could replace Phillips in the hearts of the Reds faithful, Pena is proving his worth to a struggling Cincinnati squad behind the plate, at first base filling in for an injured Joey Votto, and in the clubhouse.
If you've been keeping up with Reds news this season, you've probably seen the Cuban-born catcher's media sessions, which are just as likely to leave you grinning as any of Munenori Kawasaki's antics.
And how could they not? Pena starts off every interview by thanking God, his team, his family and his fans.
Not to mention that infectious smile, which Pena says is only natural given his many blessings.
"[Keeping a good attitude] is very important because you can never take anything for granted," Pena said. "You have to go out there and appreciate every moment that you've got, that you've got to be on the baseball field. Every opportunity that life brings you. I'm blessed because I get to be in the big leagues, I've got a great family. I'm blessed because I live in the greatest country in the world. I feel that it's just part of my life to be excited to come here and work and do my best every single time ... and to be supportive to my teammates and very respectful to the fans."
In other words, Pena's eternal optimism is no act.
"It's who you are. It's something that you can't hide. Just be the true you," Pena explained. "I have to give the fans a big 'thank you' because they've embraced me from the beginning. Since [Redsfest], since Spring Training -- they've made it really easy for me to adjust to the community, to the Cincinnati family, and hopefully I can continue to be here."
Pena said he's especially excited to have landed in Cincinnati after spending time in Atlanta, Kansas City and Detroit.
"I've been around different clubhouses and have been in the big leagues since 2005, and I've had the opportunity to be around some great players, some future Hall of Famers." Pena said. "For me to be here and spend time with my teammates is amazing. I've never been so happy or so excited about a ballclub, about a group of guys. I'm so blessed for the opportunity to be here."
And while a litany of injuries has the Reds floundering as a middling ballclub heading into September, Pena is adamant that there's still a lot to be excited about in Reds Country.
"I think the fact that we are younger -- these guys have been together for a long time [is critical]," Pena said. "They've come up through the big leagues together and everyone knows each other so well. So whoever comes in like me or Ramon Santiago, it's easier for us to adjust, you know. What we see here is a great family. These guys opened their arms from the get-go at Spring Training, and it was easier for us to adjust.
"In my humble opinion, we have been having a very good season. Everybody knows that we started the season with guys hurt on the DL. ... I don't think that we have been 100 percent healthy, and that says a lot about our team and our chemistry. It's one of those things that we have to continue to work and to continue to battle and stay healthy. I'm just trying to do my job. Every time I get in the lineup at first [or assigned to] catch, I'm just trying to do what it takes to get my team to win."
That's a role the 32-year-old has played often since being signed by the Braves as a free agent in 2000. And despite never playing in more than 72 games in a season in the big leagues, it certainly looks as if Pena has found his niche in Cincinnati, where he's suited up 89 times so far in 2014.
Not that he's complaining.
"When you sign up as a backup, you know what your role is. You have to be ready, you have to be prepared for any time that your name is called, whether in the lineup or substituting for somebody," Pena said. "When [starting catcher] Devin [Mesoraco] went down, I was prepared because I had a great Spring Training. I started the games a lot, and I got to know my pitchers and start that communication with them, especially with Johnny Cueto. I've been catching him most of this season and we have been doing pretty good, not just on the field but off the field, too."
And that's something to smile about.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less