Pena 'heartbroken' about Classic
Slugger disappointed about being a no-go for Dominican Rebublic
"That's the only thing that I have had to come to terms with, but I'm handling it all right," said Pena, equating the Classic to soccer's World Cup. "Who wouldn't want to play in the World Cup?"
Pena said his problems began late last season.
"I started having pain during August," Pena said. "I had no idea what it was, because it wasn't a particular sudden move or anything that triggered it. Gradually I just started noticing it when I ran or when I was over swinging a little bit.
"Eventually it got so painful I had to get a cortisone shot in September. And then in October I got another one, because the cortisone shot wears off. It was very painful."
Despite the pain in Pena's lower abdomen, he still managed to hit 13 homers with 47 RBIs the last two months of the season. He then hit .500 against the White Sox in the American League Division Series and he hit .269 with three home runs and six RBIs against the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series before slumping in the World Series, when he hit .118 with two RBIs.
"Thankfully I was able to finish the year, which was a relief," Pena said. "Once the season was over I was like, 'Now I can get some rest, and with some rest, things should get better. The body should heal itself.' And it did, somewhat. But I still felt it. And you can't keep getting cortisone shots, that isn't good for you."
Rays doctors advised Pena to get the problem checked out while they still had time for him to heal before the 2009 season. He had an MRI, and they discovered a tear on the right abdominal muscle, prompting a January visit to Philadelphia to see Dr. William Myers. At that point they discovered a tear on the left side as well. Myers performed surgery on Jan. 8.
"The recovery time was three weeks," Pena said. "Now that I've gone through those three weeks, I feel great. I'm glad I did it.
"It was the first time in my career that I've had surgery. It was a little bit of a new adventure for me. But I knew I was going to be great, for some reason I just knew I'd be fine. But afterward, I was like, 'Man, this is even better than I thought it would be.' I barely used all the medications I had for pain. Either I have incredible pain tolerance, or it was a great procedure, maybe both. I was really excited by that."
Pena is now swinging a bat, but the Rays and Pena opted for the cautious approach when it came to him participating in the Classic.
"Obviously it would have been such an honor to play [in the Classic]," Pena said. "You look at that team; how many unbelievable players are a part of it. You know how much fun that would have been?
"When I tell you I was heartbroken, I was heartbroken, man. I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' I waited for this two years, I couldn't be a part of this last time. Now I'm in it, and I can't be a part of it. But at the same time, I'm making sure I take advantage of this time to heal. And I think it will all work out for the best. So I haven't spent too much time dwelling on the fact I won't be a part of it. Instead, I'm like, 'All right, I've got a lot of time to get into the best shape of my life.'"
Statistically, Pena, 30, did not have as good a season offensively in 2008 as he did in '07, when he won AL Comeback Player of the Year honors after hitting 46 home runs with 121 RBIs. But he served as the team leader of the AL champion Rays while winning Gold Glove honors at first base and led the club with 31 home runs, 102 RBIs and 242 total bases despite missing 20 games with a broken left index finger.
Thirty-nine of Pena's 102 RBIs and 18 of his 31 home runs either gave the Rays the lead or tied the game. None of his homers were bigger than the one he hit Sept. 10 at Boston, where he hammered a three-run shot in the 14th inning to give the Rays a 4-2 lead and their first series victory at Fenway Park since 1999.
Pena also set a Major League record by drawing nine bases-loaded walks.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.