Classical Alum Jeremy Pena’s Major League Success Rooted In RI

“I would say I was blessed with great coaches along the way.”

Jeremy Pena
Jeremy Pena (right) at GLG Athletic Performance (2019). Photo: Ernest A. Brown / Pawtucket Times

They went on consecutive nights to Fenway Park with the same intentions: See Jeremy Pena up-close in a Major League Baseball environment.

Former Classical baseball head coach Ken Wnuk wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to see his former player. The same can be said for Jay Oldham, owner/head trainer of Cumberland-based GLG Athletic Performance.

 

 

Both have been a part of Pena’s life since long before he burst onto the scene as the Houston Astros’ rookie starting shortstop. Both men experienced Pena’s appearance at Fenway this week as a full-circle moment that prompted them to revisit their front-row seats to Pena’s journey from skinny teenager to everyday major leaguer.

I caught up with Wnuk and Oldham as well as Pena, who spoke in glowing terms about the important role each of the others played in his ascension through the baseball ranks.

 

 

PURPLE REIGN

It was the first day of baseball tryouts and taking the field at Davis Park was off-limits, hence Wnuk conducted the workout in the Classical gym.

It didn’t matter that Wnuk was hitting grounders off a hardwood floor. He realized he had a slick fielder on his hands. That slick fielder was a ninth grader named Jeremy Pena.

“He put the ball down and was ready for the next one,” said Wnuk. “He was so smooth. He caught everything.”

Years later, standing in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park on Monday afternoon, Pena noted that Wnuk couldn’t have been more accommodating. The future star never hesitated to reach out to his high school coach to ask if they could meet at Davis Park for a hitting/fielding session.

“Coach Ken was great … always willing to work. Any hour of the day, I could call him,” said Pena. “I would say I was blessed with great coaches along the way.”

 

 

For Wnuk, one particular coach / star pupil session stands out. It took place on a random Sunday morning with MLB scouts preparing to descend upon Davis Park.

“He said he had to go to church at 9 [a.m.] and some scouts were coming up around 11,” said Wnuk. “I met him at Davis and hit him about 400 balls. The scouts kept saying, ‘Geez, he’s good.’ I told them to watch the fielding that this kid does. Hitting the ball in the hole or over second base … he was good but he worked at it.”

Pena’s star may have been rising, yet he never lost sight of making sure to serve as the consummate teammate with the Purple.

“Someone would make an error and [Pena] would come into the dugout, smack him on the back, and encourage him with, ‘Come on, let’s go,’” said Wnuk. “He never had a big head. He was also an excellent student at Classical.”

 

 

Wunk didn’t get to see his former Classical star take the field Monday night; Pena was out of the lineup with knee discomfort. Upon walking down to the visiting dugout and letting someone know who he was, Wnuk was able to get some face-to-face time with a young man who isn’t close to resembling the freshman who made a strong impression with his glove on the first day of high school baseball tryouts.

“We text a few times a week,” said Wnuk, noting that he hasn’t missed an Astros game this season courtesy of the MLB Extra Innings package and plans to visit Yankee Stadium next month when Houston comes to town to play New York. “I’m proud to see him in pro baseball. He worked hard at it.”

 

 

MEET ME AT THE GLG

The interest from the MLB scouting community entered another stratosphere before Pena’s junior season at the University of Maine. It was at that moment that he started working out under Jay Oldham’s watch. Six years later, Pena still counts on Oldham to get his body in peak shape in advance of spring training.

“What can I do to assist them to get to the next level? That’s my whole take,” said Oldham, who was at Fenway Park Tuesday night when Pena went deep for a home run. “I want to make sure Jeremy has everything he needs to be successful … the facilities and the resources.”

 

 

A story that ran in the May 4th edition of the New York Times referred to Pena heading “to a private training facility outside Boston” – aka GLG Athletic Performance.

“GLG has been great to me. Jay opened his doors to me on that first day and it hasn’t stopped since. He’s been a big help,” said Pena. “You have a great environment, but you also trust in the work they do.”

While the rest of the baseball world might be catching up to Pena’s story, Oldham knows a side of Pena that’s rooted in unbridled dedication.

 

 

“Their workday in the offseason is much more than the average person’s. They’re in the gym at 6:30 [a.m.] so they can complete everything they have to do,” said Oldham. “Players like Jeremy are grinding themselves to get where they’re at.”

In the Oldham household, it’s become a morning ritual to flip on ESPN’s SportsCenter or check the MLB phone app to see what Pena did the previous night.

“Isn’t that the kid from the gym?” is the question Oldham’s kids will pose to their father upon finding out Pena’s latest feat. “You become a big fan. It’s fun to watch.”

Oldham noted that Pena never hesitated to pose for a picture, sign autographs, or offer tips to a youngster who happened to be working out simultaneously at GLG Performance.

“He might be playing at the highest level, but he’s no different than anyone else,” said Oldham.

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