Brayan Pena is now in his 10th Major League season, but he never forgets who helped him get to the big leagues from his beginnings in Havana, Cuba.
"Without my dad, I wouldn't be here," Pena said before a mid-May game against the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. "He's the reason that I'm here in the big leagues, and he's the reason for my future to have been the way it was."
Pedro Pena was a school teacher in Cuba when Brayan was growing up, and though he wasn't a baseball coach, baseball is a universal language in that country. He encouraged his son to pursue his dream of reaching the Majors someday.
"He told me: 'Whatever happens, I'm always gonna back you up. You're my son, and it doesn't matter what your destination is going to be, it doesn't matter what your future is going to dictate. I'm always going to be here for you, and I'm always going to have your back,'" Brayan recalled. "He's very excited that I'm playing ball."
Pedro now lives in Orlando, Fla., two doors away from Brayan's own home in the offseason. Pedro makes certain that he never misses a Reds game, whether he's watching it live or has to DVR it while he's at work.
"If he's at work or something like that, he makes sure to record the game, and after that he watches the game," Brayan said.
A byproduct of the Cuban passion for baseball is that Pedro, like many fathers of Cuban ballplayers, often has advice for his son when it comes to hitting.
"He'll call me or I'll get a text message or e-mail saying, 'Hey, we need to talk, because you're not using your hands that much,'" Brayan said, laughing. "He thinks he knows a lot about hitting, but he never played. But in Cuba, everybody follows baseball and everybody thinks they're a manager or a hitting coach or pitching coach.
"He calls me in the middle of the night and goes: 'Hey, why are you swinging at the first pitch?' or 'Hey, you need to be more selective!'"
It wasn't easy for Pena's parents when he left for the United States to pursue his big league dream. Both had their jobs taken away, but Pedro knew that was part of the sacrifice he and his wife would have to make for Brayan to have a shot at realizing his goal.
"He kind of knew it was coming," Brayan said. "He wanted me to be able to do my thing."
Brayan said that he wants to be the type of father Pedro has been to him, for his own children, Brayan, Jr. and Javier.
"All of his support and all his love, it means a lot to me and my dad is my everything," he said. "And I try to be the same way with my kids. I try to pass along the torch and make sure I never force my kids to do anything, and make sure they appreciate and know that they don't just have a dad, they have a friend. And that's the way I feel about my dad."
Major League Baseball players are often considered heroes to youngsters not only across America, but all over the world. So it's always special to hear a big league ballplayer talk about his own hero.
In Brayan Pena's case, it's always been a schoolteacher from Cuba who showed him unconditional love and support in his passion.
"My dad has been my hero," he said.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com.