When Jeremy Peña was a kid growing up in Providence, R.I., he would periodically attend baseball camps, where he got instruction from Major League players like Rhode Island natives Chris Iannetta and Rocco Baldelli, and even former Astros outfielder Josh Reddick.
In fact, Peña remembers getting a pair of batting gloves from Reddick, which made for an interesting story when they became teammates with the Astros during Spring Training a few years ago.
“I told him that story and that was special,” Peña said.
Those interactions at a young age clearly made an impact on Peña, who is now making an impact of his own through his work with children. Peña was named as the Astros’ 2023 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is the annual recognition of a Major League player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.
“I’ve always been blessed with having a lot of great people around me, a lot people have touched me on my journey,” Peña said. “I tried to just give back a little bit. I remember Chris Iannetta doing camps in Rhode Island, Rocco Baldelli. I always remember those things and try to do that for the kids.”
Peña, who last year won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award, ALCS MVP and a Gold Glove Award at shortstop, this year began a program called “Peña Pals.” Each Friday home game, five students, who are picked based on character and grades, get to come on the field with a teacher during batting practice and meet Peña. They also get to design a pair of white cleats with markers that Peña wears in that night’s game.
“I look forward to Fridays and meeting a new group of people,” he said.
At a recent meeting with Peña Pals at Minute Maid Park, a young girl told Peña that it was one of the best days of her life. Peña fought back tears while talking about that interaction and others like that. He admitted he’s an emotional guy.
“That stuff makes my day,” he said. “It’s probably special to them, but it’s probably more special to me. I’m always grateful for it. … They’re all awesome, they all have their own personalities. It’s pretty cool. They get to add their own flair to the cleats. They can come out there and enjoy the game and hopefully win the game.”
As part of the annual program, each MLB Club nominates one player to be considered for the league-wide award in tribute to Clemente’s achievements and character. The overall winner will be named at the 2023 World Series as selected by a panel that includes representatives from the Commissioner’s Office, MLB-affiliated networks, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Clemente’s children. Fans can also vote here through the end of the regular season.
Peña toured The Clemente Museum in Pittsburgh earlier this year with a group of his teammates in a trip organized by a fellow Puerto Rican, catcher Martín Maldonado.
“Roberto Clemente history is near and dear to Maldy’s heart, so he wanted the whole team to come out and kind of learn about him, learn his story and I've got to say, it was pretty special,” Peña said. “Roberto Clemente was a great ballplayer, but he did great outside in the community, as well. I always looked up to guys like Nelson Cruz, who’s always involved in the community, and Curtis Granderson, who’s also always involved in the community. You take after those guys.”