BOSTON - Carlos Pena is different. Educated and erudite, he has a vision that extends beyond the outfield fence. His conversations and concerns, unlike those of many other big-time professional athletes, are broader than the details of his next deal.
When Pena felt the earth move during his annual off-season visit with family in his native Dominican Republic, the result of the horrific earthquake in neighboring Haiti, he was moved to respond.
The Tampa Bay Rays' slugging first baseman lent his name. He gave his time. He donated his money to help. And he wanted to do more.
"Something like that just makes you appreciate life a little more," he says.
Pena had just finished working out in a gym in Santo Domingo when he felt the tremors. Then he heard the reports of the potential for a tsunami. His immediate concern was for his family, specifically his 4-year-old daughter, Isabella, who was at a cousin's birthday party, and his wife, Pamela, who, pregnant with their second child, was visiting with an aunt.
"One of the scariest moments of my life," he said later. "So stressful, so hectic."
By nightfall, his family safe and secured, Pena turned his attention to the television and the plight of the neighboring country.
The next morning, he and Pamela bought food and medical supplies to be sent to the victims, touched by how their fellow Dominicans put aside cultural differences to help the Haitians.
By the next day, he contacted the Rays' public relations staff and said he wanted to do whatever he could to help. That led to a series of fundraising appearances and the team's donating proceeds from its annual FanFest to the relief fund.
The response, he said later, was encouraging.
"There are so many examples in this world of how we are disappointed in the human spirit, so many things you can point out and say the world is just going to shambles," Pena says. "And then you see the opposite happen - people uniting for a good cause, people showing their good heart. I think it just goes to show you we're not doomed, that the human spirit is still capable of great things."
Pena has done his part in the past. He is a spokesman for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, routinely hosting children from the organization at home games, signing autographs and taking photos with them. He has spoken to youth and family groups. He has donated time, money and supplies to Fundacion Lumen 2000, which provides housing for foster children. He was named the recipient of the Rays' 2008 Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player who combines on-field success with off-field service. He has won the Paul C. Smith Champion Award, presented each year by local baseball writers to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.
Pena's future with the Rays is uncertain. His three-year, $24.125-million contract is up after this season, and it is not clear yet whether the Rays plan to bring him back.
He may get more lucrative offers from other teams, considering his 120 home runs since the start of the 2007 season rank among the most in baseball. Pena acknowledges there is a business side to the game but says his heart forever will be in Tampa Bay, which he considers "the best place on Earth to play baseball."
"This part of the world, here in the Tampa Bay area, we were able to put together some great numbers for Haiti," he says. "The way everyone put their hearts together and saw that's what needed to be done, that's the kind of example to me that gives the world hope. That was very powerful. That meant the world to me."