ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena was awarded the Paul C. Smith Champion Award by the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America prior to Monday's Rays-Pirates game at Progress Energy Park.
The annual award is presented to the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field and is a particularly meaningful award to those at MLB.com, for whom Smith worked as the Rays beat reporter.
The award became the first in the chapter's history to be named after an individual. Smith died at age 46 on Feb. 26, 2005. He left such an impression on the Rays organization that a commemorative plaque was placed where he once sat covering games in the Tropicana Field press box.
"It's been three years since he's been gone, and there haven't been too many days this spring in which his name hasn't come up in some meaningful fashion," said Rick Vaughn, Rays vice president of public relations. "We all still miss him very much."
In short, Smith loved baseball.
"He loved watching baseball," said Roger Mooney of the Bradenton Herald. "He loved talking baseball. He especially loved talking baseball with those who played it for a living. Every time Paul walked into a baseball stadium, the 10-year-old inside of him came out, and he became the little kid attending his first big league game with his dad. I get that feeling two, maybe three times a year. Paul felt that way every day."
Marc Topken of the St. Petersburg Times, who is the BWAA chapter president, called Smith a "special man."
"He worked hard to find that rare balance between his personal and professional lives, and I don't think I have ever met anyone who enjoyed their work as much as he did," Topken said. "Carlos Pena is a fine selection for this award, because he shares Paul's passion for the game, and for life."
Dennis Maffezzolli of the Sarasota Herald Tribune spoke of Smith's passion that could be seen in the clubhouse.
"He knew how to work the clubhouse, where he was well-liked among all the players," Maffezzolli said. "There wasn't a day that passed where Paul didn't attempt to at least say 'Hi' to each player in the clubhouse."
Pena also was named by the chapter as the team's Most Valuable Player in a close vote over Carl Crawford and James Shields, and Delmon Young, now with the Twins, was voted the team's Outstanding Rookie by unanimous selection.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.