Houston Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena's heart sign is one of the great symbols of this Astros run. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker always felt he could raise the bar of a team. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
JJeremy Pena is determined to be better next season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker often brought smiles to the Houston Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros catcher Martin Maldonado makes a huge impact on these playoff games. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros owner Jim Crane will want the new manager to be championship ready. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker showed off his Houston championship ring in his goodbye to the Astros. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros rookie catcher Yainer Diaz will be a big part of the franchise's future. He's been an intense focus of many fans all season. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Even Astros reliever Rafael Montero is into the Chas Chomp. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker leaves the Houston Astros with a world championship and plenty to think about. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Jim Crane and Dusty Baker have a lot of mutual respect for each other. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Houston Astros centerfielder Chas McCormick brings a lot of enthusiasm. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros manager Dusty Baker is walking out of Houston with a lot of memories. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena and Yordan Alvarez are at the heart of plenty of winning in Houston. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Dusty Baker and Astros general manager Dana Brown didn't always see eye to eye, but they had some laughs. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
Kyle Tucker can change games with one swing. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)
It is almost a throwaway line from Dusty Baker in his goodbye to Houston, but it carries plenty of meaning. And brings all the confidence of a 100 MPH fastball behind it.
“I see Yordan (Alvarez) and (Jose) Altuve,” Baker says when asked about the great players he managed in Houston. “(Second year shortstop Jeremy) Peña is going to be great.”
The unwavering confidence of Baker in Peña is significant. Because the young shortstop just might be the key to the Houston Astros’ chances of adding another championship or two to the two titles that already have been won in this Golden Era of Houston Baseball.
For all the focus on who Astros owner Jim Crane will pick to replace Baker as the team’s next manager — and whether he’ll listen to general manager Dana Brown or advisor/Astros legend Jeff Bagwell more in making that choice — Jeremy Peña getting right could mean even more. After his Cinderella run to winning both the American League Championship Series and World Series MVP Awards as the Astros won the title in 2022, Peña hit .200 with only one extra base hit (a double) in 40 at-bats this postseason.
Calling it from Hero to Zero would be harsh. Peña still gave the Astros some standout defense game after game. But there is no doubt that Peña was stung by the difference.
“I know I’m better than what I showed this season,” Peña says. “Off-season, back to work.”
Jeremy Peña remains one of the most popular Astros of all, a true 26-year-old matinee idol in a world of social media and instant judgements. The heart symbol he flashes after getting a big hit is one of the more memorable things about last year’s world championship run. If a Peña appearance is announced, it’s a guaranteed massive crowd turnout.
Some guys in baseball might be more than satisfied with all that.
Peña clearly isn’t. Which may be one of the most encouraging signs of all, It is certainly part of why Dusty Baker remains so convinced that this shortstop is still a future star to be. Peña credits Baker, the baseball lifer nearly 50 years his senior, with helping infuse him with confidence during that rookie season that turned into a playoff dream.
“Dusty Baker is a a legend in the sport,” Peña says. “I’ve loved every single day that I got to share with him on this ball club. He’s been great for me. He’s shown so much confidence in me.”
“(Jeremy) Peña is going to be great.” — retiring Astros manager Dusty Baker
Even as he walks away from the Astros, Baker continues to show supreme confidence in Jeremy Peña. He’ll tell the world he thinks Peña is going to be great because he truly believes that. Dusty Baker is one of the most authentic people you’ll ever come across in the world of professional sports.
Dusty Baker Retirement Truths and the Peña Future
That jumps out in his Astros retirement press conference. This is anything but the usual press conference scene. One of the Hispanic reporters who regular covers the Astros takes the microphone and thanks Baker for always making the Spanish-speaking reporters feel valued. And after Baker, Dana Brown and Jim Crane are done talking, a number of reporters line up to share a personal moment and snap a photo with Dusty Baker.
Then there is Gene Dias, the Astros ultra professional vice president of communications who never wants to make it about himself, taking a moment at the moderator’s mic to personally thank Baker for being so good to Dias and his staff. Dias also notes that he received more media requests for Dusty Baker than any Astros player during his four year run as Astros manager.
Yes, Dusty Baker certainly made an impact on people in Houston, touched many lives.
“Job well done,” University of Houston basketball coach Kelvin Sampson says of a man he’s become friends with. “His class. His character. Everything he represents, he’s a role model for all of us. One of the highlights since he’s been here has just been getting to know him.”
Both Dusty Baker and Kelvin Sampson know it’s the difference you make in your players’ lives that mean the most in the end. Baker’s managed some of the most unforgettable figures in baseball. From Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent to Kerry Wood, Bryce Harper and Jose Altuve.
“I know I’m better than what I showed this season. Off-season, back to work.” — Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña
As Dusty Baker will tell you, he knows greatness. He’s spent his life brushing against it. Fostering it, Letting it thrive.
Baker is sure he still sees it in Jeremy Peña’s future too.