Gibrian Pena’s most recent visit to Globe Life Park in Arlington was a bit more enjoyable than his previous one, but both were eminently memorable.
On Friday, the Odessa High shortstop caught Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo’s first career grand slam that wound up being the difference in the Rangers’ 6-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
“It was crazy,” Pena said.
Exactly one week earlier, Pena and the Bronchos had their season end with a 6-0 loss to Southlake Carroll in a one-game playoff in the Class 6A regional semifinals. It was Odessa High’s first trip to the fourth round of the playoffs since 2009.
On his way off the Globe Life Park field after the game, Pena grabbed a keepsake from his first game in a major league ballpark. Stepping out of the first-base dugout, the one the Rangers use for home games, he scooped up a handful of dirt from the warning track and stuffed it into the back pocket of his game pants.
On Friday, Pena and Bronchos teammates Cristian Baeza and Hervey Nieto were in the Dallas-Fort Worth area playing in a showcase tournament, giving the trio the opportunity to attend the game.
“After one of our games, Hervey’s mom decided she wanted to go watch the Rangers play, so that’s where we were,” Pena said.
Gallo’s blast, his 16th of the year, came in the sixth inning off Royals starter Danny Duffy with the game tied 2-2. The Rangers slugger, corresponding via email, said the fact the grand slam was just as significant from a team standpoint, providing the margin of victory, as it was a personal achievement was especially satisfying.
“It was my first one in the big leagues, so that means a lot,” Gallo said. “It was in such a big moment, 2-2 game, so we ended up winning that game because of that, so that just felt good to help the team win. It a really exciting moment in my career, just because of the magnitude of it, and just how loud the crowd was, the energy, so it was a pretty big moment for me.”
Pena, who was seated in center field between the Rangers bullpen and Greene’s Hill, caught the 457-foot drive barehanded on the fly.
“I walked back and Cristian said, ‘Look, G, Joey Gallo’s up. He’s about to hit a grand slam.’ I was like, ‘I hope so,’” Pena said. “Sure enough, the crack of the bat, I see the ball coming.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s not going to reach all the way to me,’ until about the last 20 feet or so. I was like, ‘Oh gosh, it’s right there.’ I stuck up my hand and just barehanded it with my popcorn in my other hand.”
Gallo said it was apparent Pena possessed some baseball ability.
“Yeah, for sure. I hit that ball pretty hard,” Gallo said. “I saw the replay, I just saw a bunch of chairs flying everywhere, so I didn’t see his catch, but if he caught that, that’s pretty impressive. That’s really hard to catch a ball like that. It definitely helps to have some baseball skill when you do that.”
Gallo said having a young player catch and his homer was particularly gratifying in light of his support for youth baseball through the Rangers Youth Academy.
“I think it’s great because it gives kids a place to go and play baseball and enjoy the game that we love,” Gallo said of the academy. “For the Rangers to be doing that for the community, I think it just speaks volumes about what the Rangers really want to accomplish and that is to get the community involved in the great game of baseball. So I think it is amazing what we’re doing, what the Rangers are doing, with the Academy.”
The celebration that followed the grand slam and Pena’s catch was rather frenzied, Pena said.
“I looked around and everybody’s phones were right in my face recording me,” he said. “Then I looked down and the people downstairs were all pointing their cameras at me.”
Pena said the two visits to Globe Life Park both produced memories that will last a lifetime.
“It was an amazing feeling, seeing Elvis Andrus playing shortstop where I was at one point,” he said.
Friday’s events just made Pena that much more eager to get back on the field as a player.
“It made me feel like I could go hit a grand slam,” Pena said.
Pena said he hoped to be able to keep the ball, but agreed to return it to the slugger when Rangers clubhouse manager Brandon Boyd offered an autographed bat in exchange. The bat, Pena said, will kept safe in his home.
“(Boyd) came out and asked me if I would like to exchange the bat for the ball,” Pena said. “I asked him if there was any way for Joey Gallo to come out there and sign the ball for me and me keep the ball, but (Boyd) said that was totally up to Gallo. I didn’t know if he was going to come out or not, so that’s when I decided to go ahead and take the bat and return the ball.”
Gallo said he appreciated Pena’s willingness to return the souvenir.
“It was cool,” said Gallo, who was already undergoing postgame treatment. “It was my first grand slam ever so to get that ball, to have that memory forever means a lot.
“(Rangers television sideline reporter) Emily Jones texted me and said ‘someone has your grand slam ball, do you want it?’ I said of course and I gave them a bat to go bring out to him. (Pena) wasn’t in the clubhouse, but I signed the bat for him and they brought him the bat.”
Gallo added his 17th home run in Saturday’s victory before straining an oblique muscle later in the game. He was placed on the 10-day injured list on Sunday.
With another year of high school ahead of him, Pena’s playing days aren’t over yet. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could someday be on the other side of such an exchange with a young fan.
“It would make me feel amazing if I made it there and hit a grand slam,” Pena said. “I sure would want that ball back.”
Regardless of how much longer Pena plays, Gallo said his advice would be to enjoy every minute.
“Growing up I wish I had more fun than I did,” Gallo said. “I was always too focused on the results and stuff, so I mean, the best advice is just to have fun and be yourself and good things will happen from there. I think that is best advice for kids is just to enjoy playing the game, because that’s what it is, it’s a game, so you have to have fun while you’re playing it.”