As Manhattan’s baseball team gears up for their season, the aggregate of MAAC baseball coaches came together and tabbed the Jasper’s sophomore catcher Fabian Peña as the preseason player of the year.
The Miami, Fla. native exploded on the season as freshman, earning his spot in the heart of the lineup with superb hitting and a reliable glove behind the plate. For Peña, the prestigious individual awards he has received mean little to him, because he never found them important enough to fully understand.
“I didn’t know what any of it meant,” said Peña, “It started with Rookie of the Week, I had to go ask coach what it meant.”
For Peña, MAAC Rookie of the Week was just that, a start. Throughout the 2016 season, Peña racked up the award, collecting one multi-hit game after another. At the end of the season, Peña was top five in every major offensive category: and lead the Jaspers with nine home-runs, 54 runs-batted-in, and a slugging percentage of .598. He was also able to throw out 27 of 52 runners from behind the plate (51.9 percent).
“[Last year] Every time I got in the box, it was my time,” said Peña.
This body of work was good enough to earn Peña some prominent awards. After being named the MAAC Rookie of the Year, the rookie catcher was also named to D1 Baseball’s Freshman All-American Second Team, as well as the MAAC All-Tourney team.
Now, after being touted for the highest honor in the conference, Peña understands that the best way to prepare for the future is to look to the past. In just his second year, Peña reflected on some of his older contemporaries, players like Christian Santisteban, who last year was named for the same preseason honor, and won it in the spring.
“I have to the better than last year,” said Peña, “it’s something people are expecting from me.”
Manhattan’s head coach Jim Duffy experienced this last year with Santisteban, and has been pleased with the way Peña has responded receiving the honor.
“I really do think it has motivated him in a positive way,” said Duffy.
What has kept the desire to improve prevalent with the team has been the disregard for the accolades. Yes, Peña, along with other Jaspers who have been given preseason honors, have had discussed these awards with Duffy, but that has been it. The team has had productive, driven practices in preparation for their season opener by not letting the good news force them into a state of satisfaction.
“It’s been business as usual,” said Duffy, “the confidence level has been very high”
Duffy sees the potential in this team to improve on the 2016 season, and has confidence in his core group of players to lead the team. The accolades Duffy’s players earn make him proud, but after two consecutive seasons of coaching some of the best players in the conference he hopes to see this trend turn into a standard.
“It’s a really great thing for the program,” said Duffy, “that should start being the norm around here”
Last season was the first time most almost half of the team had tasted postseason baseball. The upperclassmen leaders of this team understand that this year will be the last time many of them play together, and are motivated to make the most of the it. For Peña, all the awards mean nothing if he doesn’t perform well in the spring, but right now the only goal the team has their eye on is winning a MAAC Championship.