BOSTON - Not a single player could be found within the abandoned Red Sox clubhouse, yet it was Carlos Pena's locker which stood out.
It was the day after Boston's season had come to a close and most of the players were long gone, having boxed up their belongings and headed into the offseason. In front of Pena's cubicle, however, there was something hard to miss - a pile of memories.
Lying on the floor was a stack of clothes and other baseball-related articles, all collected through the 36 days Pena spent in a Red Sox uniform.
"It has been an unbelievable experience," Pena said immediately after Boston's season finale Sunday night. "I'm going to take all of this stuff and cherish it. I don't know what's going to happen, but I do know that the time I got to wear the uniform of the Boston Red Sox was unbelievable."
Later Monday, after Pena's memorabilia had been shipped out of Fenway Park, the goosebumps from his stint as a Red Sox player were still present on his trip back home - Haverhill - where the former Hillies star got the opportunity to reflect at his parents' house.
Memories and memorabilia aside, the short drive to Haverhill was the final payoff for what has been the Pena family's wild month-long ride.
"It was an amazing experience," said Carlos' father, Felipe Pena. "We hadn't had an opportunity to sit down with him for a month, but he came here (Monday night), sat down for three or four hours, and left here about two o'clock (in the morning). He has been playing for so many years, but he was never able to stop by like that because it was just too difficult."
Yesterday, the dream of living the life of a Red Sox player was put on hold as Pena left for his home in Orlando, Fla. After spending some time there, the six-year big leaguer will then jet down to the Dominican Republic, where Pena will whittle away the winter as a member of the Licey Tigers in the Dominican Winter League.
While with Licey (which will also employ Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez), he will use his time to develop his skills as an outfielder, waiting for his agent, Scott Boras, to pass along any news on the Red Sox's interest in him for 2007.
"I hope they bring me back, but even if it doesn't work out I am always going to cherish my time here," Pena said. "I made sure the whole time I was here I took in everything, whether it was listening to David (Ortiz) talk about hitting, putting on a Boston Red Sox uniform or just coming to the park. It has been such a thrill for me."
The 18-game stay with the Sox might have appeared inconsequential, considering Pena jumped aboard Boston's playoff hunt just as his new team's ship begun to sink. He did acquit himself nicely, though, finishing with a .273 batting average and entering the team's highlight reel by launching a walkoff ,solo home run at Fenway on Sept. 4.
It was enough to at least give the Red Sox pause regarding cutting ties with Pena. His approach at bat makes him Boston's kind of player, averaging nearly four pitches per plate appearance throughout his career. With the Sox, while striking out 10 times in his 37 plate appearances, he consistently hit the ball hard, finishing with an impressive .364 batting average on balls put in play (70 points better than his career best).
What may be the biggest obstacle in the way of Pena's return to Boston is Eric Hinske, who is signed through next season. Hinske, the 2002 American League Rookie of the Year, also figures to fill the role of part-time player at both first and in the outfield. He hit .288 with one home run in 31 games for Boston after coming over from Toronto on Aug. 16, the same day Pena signed with the Red Sox.
Yet when it comes to the '06 Sox, Pena's sincere appreciation on his stay in Boston will stand out. As he spoke following the Red Sox's final game, his emotion and genuine gratitude were on display for all to see.
"If you think about it, where I have come from this season, from being released by Detroit, then signing with the Yankees and finally signing here, it's really unbelievable if you think about it," Pena said. "It really has been dream come true."