"I love hitting home runs and I love the offense; I think it drives every kid to play the game," said Pena, who is one year removed from a 46-home run season. "But I take so much pride in my defense. I've always dreamt of this, and finally I get recognized for the Gold Glove. You have no idea how excited I was yesterday when I received the news."
"Carlos works very hard on his defense and he has turned himself into a premier defensive player," Friedman said. "He has received a lot of attention for his bat the past couple of years, so it is great to see him recognized for his defense as well."
"I couldn't believe it at first," Pena said. "I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't expecting a call. I didn't know they did this so early after the season. My wife started crying. She knows exactly how much it means to me and I was kind of crazy on the phone when Andrew called me and let me know about it. It was very exciting news. I was very pumped up and happy about it."
Pena led all American League first basemen and infielders with a .998 fielding percentage. He made just two errors in 1,099 total chances, including 991 putouts, and he was involved in 117 double plays. Pena made the routine plays, but he also made the spectacular on numerous occasions. The winners were selected by managers and coaches from each American League team who can't vote for their own players.
The rest of the American League winners were:
Pitcher: Mike Mussina, Yankees
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins
Second base: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Third base: Adrian Beltre, Mariners
Shortstop: Michael Young, Rangers
Outfielders: Torii Hunter, Angels; Grady Sizemore, Indians; and Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners.
The 2008 season marked the 52nd year of the Gold Glove Award. The first were awarded in 1957 to one player at each position from both leagues, then expanded the next year to include a lineup of nine players, one from each league.
Pena could not pinpoint any one area of his defense that he has improved on over the years. Instead, he noted that he felt like he's played good defense throughout his career and cited the reason why.
"Even going back to high school, because it has meant so much to me," Pena said. "It has always had a lot of importance to me and I've always taken a lot of pride in it. Because when I was a kid I used to watch players like Tony Fernandez and Manny Lee, who were middle infielders. They were my inspiration.
" ... Obviously I was left-handed, so I could not play those positions, so I thought of first base as my opportunity to be that. Even though I wasn't a shortstop, I always had that mentality. I always wanted to take first base to another level."
Pena credited the entire Rays defense for working together to put him in a position to win the award.
"I think we all make each other better," Pena said. "We help each other. I think playing next to such incredible defensive players makes me a better defensive player. I would think all of my teammates would say the same thing. It is very cool. Even though I won the Gold Glove at first base, I feel we all won the Gold Glove as a team."
Boston's Kevin Youkilis won the AL Gold Glove for first basemen in 2007.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.