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Manhattan’s Peña, Jacques chase their baseball dreams

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Fabian Peña was getting anxious. 

As he sat in the living room of his Miami Beach home with his parents, grandparents and girlfriend, Manhattan College’s junior catcher stared at his computer screen as the names of players selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft popped onto the screen.

As Round 20 turned to Round 21, there was still no sign of Peña’s name.

About 1,200 miles to the north, in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, Peña’s teammate, senior pitcher Joe Jacques, was enduring a similar nerve-racking experience as he and his mom Cindy sat in front of his computer screen.

“It was definitely stressful,” Peña said. “You’re looking at the computer screen and you have high hopes and expectations about the draft, and then you think that it might not work out the way you wanted.”

Jacques had an almost identical feeling during his own tortuous hours at home.

“It was definitely the most stressful day of my life,” Jacques said. “Especially when it got late. You start to question it, like, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to happen.’”

But happen it did for both Peña — selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 25th round — and Jacques, who went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Round 33. And now the former Manhattan duo are ready to begin their professional baseball careers and chase their childhood dreams.

“Once it happened, it was the best feeling in the world, and there were a lot of emotions,” Peña said. “I think at first everyone was in shock that it finally happened, and then it got pretty emotional. A couple of tears here and there, and after that, we all started celebrating. 

“I’m just happy the Giants picked me. It’s a great organization to play for, and I’m looking forward to getting started.”

Jacques didn’t have nearly the same support system for his draft ordeal. His dad, Bob, had to work. Cindy, well, she ran an ill-timed errand on draft day.

“My mom was with me the whole day,” Jacques said. “But she saw that I was getting kind of anxious that I wasn’t hearing my name called, so she decided to run out to the store, and that’s when I got picked. So I was home alone when it happened, actually.”

In fact, Dad ended up being the first to find out.

“I called my dad right away, but I wanted to tell my mom in person, and she got back 20 minutes after I got picked,” Jacques said. “She was jumping up and down, and my dad was in shock at work. When it finally did happen, it was like a surreal moment. It’s only starting to hit me now.”

The family celebrations are going to be short-lived ones for both Peña and Jacques as each are expected to begin their pro careers this week.

“I’ll be going to Arizona for a minicamp and to sign my contract, and then I’ll be assigned to a (minor league) team,” Peña said. His most likely destination is with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Oregon, the Giants’ A-ball affiliate in the Northwest League.

Jacques won’t have to travel as far, sticking to the east coast.

“I’m leaving for Pittsburgh for my physical and to sign my contract, and then I’m getting shipped off to Bristol, Virginia,” Jacques said. He’ll suit up for the Bristol Pirates of the Class-A Appalachian League.

Peña, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference rookie of the year as a freshman, earned All-MAAC honors in each of his three seasons. When he finally saw his name called, memories of all the years of hard work that led to this day came flooding back to him.

“When you hear your name you’re in shock for a couple of minutes,” Peña said. “After that, you look back on how you got here, and it feels good that all you’ve done, all the sacrifices and all the practices over the years have paid off in the end.

“You want to give thanks to all the people who pushed you and helped you. It’s just a wonderful feeling. It’s a dream come true. I’ve always looked forward to becoming a professional player, and I’m happy I finally have become one.”

Jacques, who logged 209 strikeouts in 256-2/3 career innings at Manhattan, said his spirits were really down late in the draft. He “just prayed that a team would take a shot.” 

Now the Pirates have, and Jacques is ready to overcome his latest baseball obstacle.

“I was a walk-on at Manhattan,” Jacques said. “I had to try out to make the team. So my confidence never wavers. I’ve been through tough times before, and have proved myself over and over again. And I will do it again.”

As for Peña, he was asked when Giants’ All-Star catcher Buster Posey should be worried about job security.

“Today,” Peña said, laughing. “I’m going to do everything in my power so I can start making my way up.”

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