By Mychael Urban / MLB.comCarlos Pena has been all over the map as a professional baseball player.
He's been a top prospect, a star rookie, a bust and then a Comeback Player of the Year. Along the way, he's played near the shores of California, deep in the heart of Texas and up in Motor City.
And while Pena has made a name for himself most recently as a slugging first baseman in Tampa Bay, he has a great appreciation for the dominant dynamics of baseball in the Northeast.
Pena, who helped the Rays knock the big boys off the top of the American League East in 2008, played for those very big boys before finding professional peace in St. Petersburg.
"There's nothing in baseball like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry," said Pena, who played for New York's Triple-A affiliate in Columbus for the first four months of the 2006 season before signing with Boston a day after requesting his release. "I've seen it up close, from every angle. It's awesome."
The oldest of four children, Pena was born in the Dominican Republic. His parents, Felipe and Mery, moved the family to Haverhill, Mass., when Pena was young, primarily for educational purposes.
Pena did, indeed, reap the benefits of the move, graduating with honors from Haverhill High School. And as he worked toward an engineering degree while starring for the baseball team at Northeastern University in Boston, his appreciation for Red Sox Nation blossomed.
"It was incredible, going to Fenway Park," Pena said. "It was like an event, every time there was a game. People went crazy for the Red Sox."
So did Pena, but he was forced to change allegiances when he was selected 10th overall by the Rangers in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft. He reached the Majors in 2001, but after the season he was traded to the A's, for whom he won AL Rookie of the Month honors in April 2002.
Less than a month later, he was in the Minors. A few months after that, he was traded to the Tigers. Pena experienced some success with Detroit, but he was released after batting just .196 in Spring Training 2006. He signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees shortly thereafter.
"I just wanted a job at that point," Pena said. "But every baseball player wants to play in pinstripes at some point, whether they admit it or not."
Pena never made it to the Big Apple as a big leaguer, so he exercised a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent. He signed with the Red Sox the next day, and after a couple of weeks at Triple-A Pawtucket, he was called up and got to live out a dream, hitting a walk-off homer at Fenway on Sept. 4.
"It was like I was floating around the bases," he said. "That was the best feeling I've had in baseball."
Until the 2008 postseason. Pena -- who signed a Minor League deal with the Rays the following spring and wound up winning the 2007 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award -- helped Tampa Bay stun the baseball world by ending the long divisional reign of the Red Sox and Yanks.
"I have been blessed," Pena said. "Every step of the way."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.