Baseball is replete with stories about the sons of major leaguers following their fathers into the game and achieving quick success.
In last few years alone, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., Ke’Bryan Hayes, and Bo Bichette have reached the majors and become lineup mainstays for their respective teams
Jeremy Peña, the impressive rookie shortstop of the Houston Astros, is the latest. But the 24-year-old followed a different path.
Peña was born in 1997, almost exactly a year after his father played his final game in the majors.
Geronimo Peña played from 1990-96, primarily as a second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. A switch-hitter with an above-average bat, Peña had a solid career before returning home to the Dominican Republic.
Jeremy was born there then and moved with his family to Providence when he was 9.
“I’m a New England kid,” Peña said.
Peña played at Classical High and hit .390 as a senior. He was a late-round draft pick by the Braves but decided to play at the University of Maine.
Boston College and the University of Rhode Island tried to lure Peña away from Maine. But his father was firm about staying with the program that had recruited his son from the beginning.
“They kind of showed up late, during my senior year, and I was already committed to Maine and I stuck to my word,” Peña said. “I had a great time up there and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“We had some good teams and the facilities were good. I’m glad I went there.”
Peña became a prospect in Orono, adding muscle and bat speed. He played one summer in Plymouth in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and another in Chatham in the Cape Cod League.
All that experience paid off with Peña being Houston’s third-round pick in 2018. He saw his first game in person at Fenway Park a few months later when the Red Sox played the Astros in the ALCS.
It wasn’t until Tuesday that Peña finally played at Fenway and homered in his first at-bat with about a dozen friends and family watching in the stands.
“Everybody here showing support. It was cool to see,” said Pena, who cleared the Green Monster facing Nate Eovaldi.
Peña played only 182 minor league games before being called up — 30 above Single A. The pandemic canceled the 2020 season and surgery on his left wrist limited him to 37 games last season.
But with the Astros needing a shortstop after Carlos Correa signed with the Twins, Peña earned the job out of spring training.
Through Tuesday, he had an .878 OPS and 2.3 bWAR. Correa had a .693 OPS and 0.5 bWAR.
There’s a lot of the season left to play, but Peña is a leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year.
“He’s been exactly what we needed,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora first became aware of Peña two years ago while watching a Dominican Winter League game. He texted his friend Alex Cintrón, Houston’s hitting coach, to say how impressed he was with Peña’s physical presence on the field.
“That’s part of player development, you go down there and you have to perform and he did,” Cora said. “He’d going to be a good player for a long time.”
Maine has sent 11 players to the majors since 1968, most of them during the long tenure of legendary coach John Winkin.
Pena is the first Black Bear to make it since Mark Sweeney and Larry Thomas made their debuts in 1995. He’s helped put the program back in the spotlight.
“I’m proud I came up through New England like I did,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.”