Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 6/20/13
DETROIT Detroit Tigers catcher Brayan Pena adapts to the feel approach preferred by pitcher Doug Fister, who starts Friday night against the Boston Red Sox. Pena loves to go over scouting reports and video when forming a pitching game plan, but shelves all of that because he knows its important for Fister to feel comfortable. But there is far more to Pena and Fister than a mutual agreement on when to throw a breaking ball. We are very close, man, Pena said. He made me a smarter human being. We build a Viking relationship. Pena has read up on the Vikings and fancies their character. What impressed him most about them? How loyal they are to each other, Pena said. Thats why I do a Viking handshake with the guys. Everybody likes it. Pena grabbed my arm just below the elbow for a forearm-on-forearm handshake, Viking style. They have been teammates for only four months the stocky catcher who defected from Havana, Cuba at age 16 and the lanky pitcher from Merced, Calif. but it seems like theyve known each other much longer. Brayan is just such a lovable guy, Fister said. And he has the same personality with everyone on this team; hes glue for everybody. He does little things like that handshake. Thats a handshake that comes from the heart. You can get close to Brayan pretty quickly. Hes always caring about somebody else. He always puts his needs after your needs. One example of that occurs whenever Pena catches Fister. I like to go out and go by feel on the hitters, Fister said. I dont watch video. And Brayan is a video and study guy all the way. Pena said, Doug is an old-school guy on preparation. Its about feeling and reading the hitters, and hes great at it. To be able to smell what somebody else is cooking is really impressive. The catcher held up a page filled with three-digit numbers coded for references to each Red Sox hitter, and said, This is something I go over with all the other pitchers. Then Pena turned over the sheet to the blank side, adding, This is for Doug. Pena bonds closely with those around him. His former Kansas City Royals teammate, Panamanian pitcher Bruce Chen, asked him to be the best man at his wedding this offseason. Chen was that guy for me before, said Pena, 31, who is married and has two young children. Fister is the Spanish version of Chen. Pena said he likes how Fister goes about doing things for others without publicity. Doug takes a lot of time to work with kids, problem kids and all kinds, with his girlfriend, Pena said. Fister, 29, and Ashley Phelps, a science teacher and water polo and swimming coach at Merced High, works with students there. Pena also has a giving soul. He said that in September he will begin filling four large cardboard boxes with baseball equipment and clothing that he will take along with his brother to the Dominican Republic. Ill get spikes, shoes, socks, Pena said. Youll see the boxes and people will say, Thats Pena, picking up stuff. Pena said he would love to take the boxes to his native Cuba, but cant return there. He defected from the team hotel of the Cuban junior national team at the world championship tournament in Caracas, Venezuela. Pena hid out in a house for five months before going to Costa Rica and being granted political asylum. Pena said the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, an ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, ran his photo in the media and stated that Pena would be returned to Havana if found. So, Pena shaved off his moustache and hair to limit the chance of being noticed. He didnt tell any of his teammates including current major leaguers Kendrys Morales, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alexei Ramirez and Yunel Escobar about his escape plan. I was the pioneer the first one to leave, said Pena, whose dream is to return to Cuba with a World Series ring to share with friends and family. Pena became a U.S. citizen and a flag-waving patriot. He explained that many Americans take their freedom and lifestyle for granted. Ive thought of joining the Army Reserve, Pena said. It would be something for me to pay back this country. Would he talk Fister into joining up with him? Together, yeah, Pena said with a smile.
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