Providence welcomes home Jeremy Peña. Here's what the World Series MVP had to say

PROVIDENCE — Jeremy Peña was just a line drive away from his old high school on Saturday afternoon, honored by his home city after a dream debut season with the Astros in 2022.

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He was treated to a 90-minute speaking program at the Providence Career & Technical Academy, with state and local politicians offering proclamations in his honor. Former coaches from the Elmwood Little League, Classical High, Providence Sports & Leadership and more welcomed back one of their prized baseball pupils.

“It was a special year for sure,” Peña said. “What made it even more special was I always felt the support of the state — except for some Yankee fans here and there.

“But it was special. It was a special run. I felt blessed.”

World Series MVP Jeremy Peña, a Classical High School graduate, talks to fans at the Providence Career & Technical Academy on Saturday during a reception to honor the Houston Astros star.
World Series MVP Jeremy Peña, a Classical High School graduate, talks to fans at the Providence Career & Technical Academy on Saturday during a reception to honor the Houston Astros star.

Peña’s historic run

Peña packed a career's worth of highlights into a few short months. He swept Most Valuable Player awards in both the American League Championship Series and the World Series, as Houston vanquished New York in four games and the Phillies in six. The Gold Glove he captured was the first for a rookie shortstop and validated his organization’s decision to make a significant personnel change at a key position.

“It’s historic not only here in Rhode Island but in the entire baseball world,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “A world champion, a ring as a rookie, the Gold Glove as a rookie, an MVP award — we all were watching very proudly right here.”

This rapid rise to stardom almost took a different turn about a decade ago. Peña was offered a potential chance by the Pirates to sign a professional contract as an international free agent out of his native Dominican Republic. His family moved to the United States when he was 9, but Peña’s foreign passport put him less than a year away from the 16-year-old minimum required.

Peña’s father, Geronimo, said no. The seven-year infielder with St. Louis and Cleveland from 1990-96 wanted his son to further his education before following his lead into baseball. Peña said no again when he was selected by Atlanta in the 39th round of the 2015 draft but finally granted permission as a third-round pick by the Astros out of Maine in 2018.

“Everything happened how it was meant to happen, and now I’m here,” Peña said. “What do I have to say about that? Parents are always right.”

It was with that history in mind that Peña once again took his father's wise advice entering spring training. Carlos Correa had departed for the Twins via free agency, stripping Houston of a franchise cornerstone. Peña was a heralded prospect but had played just 30 games above Double-A when he debuted on Opening Day against the Angels.

“I want you to be the next you,” Peña said to a crowd of neighbors, classmates and kids waiting to have their picture taken with him. “That’s real.

“Coming into this year there were a lot of comparisons between me and another player. And my parents — my dad was the one who told me, ‘You don’t need to fill anyone else’s shoes. You’re yourself. You’re your own man. You’ve gone through your own struggles. You have your own book to write.’

State and local politicians were included in the ceremony honoring Providence's Jeremy Peña on Saturday.
State and local politicians were included in the ceremony honoring Providence's Jeremy Peña on Saturday.

“I encourage everybody to write their own book.”

New country, new challenges for Peña

Peña’s first chapters as a kid in the city of Providence were a personal challenge. He didn’t speak English and was the new boy adjusting to different schools, unfamiliar classmates and other hardships. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos was raised in the same Dominican Republic neighborhood where Peña began his journey — he was a long way from its comfort.

More:'Dream come true' for Providence's Jeremy Peña playing for Houston Astros at Fenway Park

“Every immigrant’s dream when they come to this country is to provide the best opportunities for their kids,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said. “You want them to grow up to be honest, hard-working and successful. I think we can all say you’ve been very honest, very hard-working and very successful.”

Peña was presented a key to the city in a private ceremony earlier in the week. His No. 21 with PSL — a travel program that boasts a 100% high school graduation rate among its players — was formally retired as part of Saturday’s celebration. Retiring city police department commander Tom Verdi curled his index fingers in the shape of a heart to begin his remarks — the same gesture Peña makes for his mom, Cecilia, after a key hit or scoring an important run.

“Jeremy Peña loves us,” said Verdi, who serves on the PSL board of directors. “And we certainly love this man. This is a very special day for a truly special person.”

bkoch@providencejournal.com

On Twitter: @BillKoch25 

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Providence welcomes home World Series MVP Jeremy Peña