DETROIT — Tony Pena spent six hours at Fenway Park Monday, interviewing with the Red Sox for a chance to become their next manager.
The process, according to those who have been through it, can be grueling. Candidates are asked dozens of questions and are tested via video simulations to determine how sound their strategy would be.
But Pena found the experience enjoyable.
“It was a very, very quick six hours,” he said Tuesday. “Because when you’re talking about something you love to do, the thing that you have passion for, then you can talk the whole day. You can talk 24 hours. You can talk the whole year about baseball. That wouldn’t bother me at all.”
Pena, 55, has been in baseball virtually all his life. He played 18 years in the majors as a catcher, retiring in 1997. He then transitioned quickly into coaching and managing. His last seven seasons have been with the Yankees, coaching under Joe Torre and then Joe Girardi. Pena has been the team’s bench coach since 2009.
Along the way, Pena played four seasons for the Red Sox and managed parts of four seasons with the Royals. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wasn’t surprised when the Red Sox asked permission to interview Pena.
“He’s intense, he’s passionate, he loves the game, and he never has a bad day. That’s how I would describe Tony Pena,” Cashman said. “He’s done a lot. He was involved with a lot of playoff teams as player. He’s been involved with a lot of different aspects of the game. There’s a lot of experience there.”
Pena may be a long shot to succeed Bobby Valentine. But it’s worth noting that all four teams still alive in the postseason are managed by former catchers.
“When you’re a catcher, you have more understanding of the game,” Pena said. “You have to be ready for every single pitch. You have to be ready for every single pitch that you’re going to call. Every pitch, it means something. You have to be able to deal with different people.”
Pena also has the advantage of having played in Boston and coached in New York. He knows the territory.
“There’s no question I know that ball club real well,” he said. “Nobody can tell me anything about them because we have to go through it. We play them so many times a year.”
Boston, Pena knows, can be a challenge.
“You have to not worry about anything outside the ballpark,” he said. “You have to worry about the things you are capable of doing and then you move forward.
“You cannot think about [distractions]. I know those cities are very demanding. I know that. I’m ready for any challenge.”
But, as Cashman said, being the manager changes that equation.
“When you take that seat, I don’t care who you are, it’s different,” Cashman said. “You can be on the front lines as the bench coach in Boston and then replace the manager and it’s different.
“That’s true in New York, too. Living it is different than anticipating it.”
Pena said he has a “comfortable” relationship with Red Sox vice president of player personnel Allard Baird, who was the general manager in Kansas City when he managed there.
Pena was the American League Manager of the Year in 2003, then resigned early in the 2005 season. But he feels he would be a better manager now.
“It’s no question,” he said. “When you manage the first time and come around the second time, you have more time to think about it. You have more to learn. Every day is something new in baseball and you learn more and more about the game. I know right now I’m better than what I was.”
Girardi agreed with that.
“I think Tony could manage anywhere, I do,” he said. “I have that confidence in him and I know how he prepares and I know how he goes about his business.”
The Red Sox are set to interview Padres special assistant Brad Ausmus Wednesday and Orioles third base coach DeMarlo Hale Thursday. Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach interviewed last week.
It remains uncertain whether Toronto manager John Farrell will be made available to the Red Sox. If he proves off-limits, Pena could emerge as a viable option.
“I played there for four years and I enjoyed every single moment there,” said Pena. “But whatever happens, happens. I have no control over that now.”
Cashman is an interested observer.
“Boston, there are really smart people up there,” he said. “They’re going to have a real strong interview process. We tried to do the same thing here when we went through it and recognizing that the manager is ultimately not as big of a decision as the talent.
“The talent is the most important aspect that you need to find. Through your amateur scouting department, your player development department finishing it off and then your pro [scouting] department collecting as many guys as they can at the same time, that’s where you make the difference to provide your manager a position to be successful.
“I think those areas are more important than ultimately the decision you’re going through, even though that happens to be the person you push in front of the media every day.
“You have to build the house before you get to that point.
“Listen, better days are ahead for Boston. I know that.”