ST. PETERSBURG — Carlos Peña fittingly got the news that his dream came true after waking up in the middle of the night early Sunday.
With Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia pulling out of Tuesday's All-Star Game due to complications in his wife's pregnancy, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon picked Peña to replace him on the AL roster and join four other Rays players (and their coaching staff) in St. Louis. Peña will also compete in tonight's home run derby.
Maddon tried calling Peña several times after midnight Saturday, but the Rays first baseman had dozed off while trying to help his 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, get to sleep. Peña's wife, Pamela, woke him at 2 a.m. telling him, "You've got a million missed calls from Joe."
Peña, 31, said his first thought was the All-Star Game, but he still couldn't believe it.
"I was in a state of shock," Peña said. "I don't hesitate to say, this is a miracle. I'm grateful, I'm extremely grateful. Joe gets another opportunity to pick someone to come to the game and he picks me. It means the world to me."
It was admittedly a roller-coaster of emotions for Peña. He was on the Final Man online ballot for the last spot on the All-Star team but found out Thursday he finished fourth on the five-man ballot, even after the Rays launched a "Vote 'Los" campaign with billboards and T-shirts. Peña said he had already "turned the page" and was preparing to spend four days with his family.
Peña will still get that chance, as his family — including his parents — will fly to St. Louis to be with him. He called several relatives in Florida and his native Dominican Republic early Sunday morning after allowing it to sink in. "I spent an hour just staring at the ceiling fan, 'Like, what just happened?' "
Though there were other worthy candidates, including Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler (second in the Final Man ballot), Maddon said that with Peña leading the AL with 24 home runs, he deserves to be at the All-Star Game. Maddon said the Blue Jays' Aaron Hill will start at second base and the Rays' Ben Zobrist will back him up. With Peña picked, the Rays become the first team since the 2002 Yankees to have their entire starting infield at the All-Star Game.
"It's one of those things you can cut it or slice it so many different ways and everybody is going to appeal to you with their own agenda — and I get it, I absolutely get it," Maddon said. "But at the end of the day the fact (Peña) leads the American League in home runs I think matters the most."
Peña said he felt for Pedroia and "hopes everything is okay with his family." He was also humbled by his inclusion in both the game and home run derby, events he has watched on TV since breaking into the big leagues in 2001.
"Believe me, this is a huge deal to me; I'm not going to even pretend to play it cool," said Peña, who is in his ninth big-league season. "I'm shocked. I've called half the world. … We're all going nuts about it. It's obviously a dream come true, and I won't take it for granted one bit. I hope it's the first one of many."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.