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"I knew in my heart it was going to be a great season ... but I went beyond what I envisioned," Pena said.Pena is the first player in major league history to hit 40 or more homers the season after being released. He's also the 11th AL player to have 100 walks, 45 homers and 120 RBIs in a season. "It's like a gift," he said of the award. "You never sit there and expect things to come to you. ... I'm very grateful, very happy. It's the most fun I've had playing baseball since I can remember."
A 1998 first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers, Pena was released by the New York Yankees last August after six years in the majors in which he appeared in games for the Rangers, Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox.
"Winning the comeback player of the year award is wonderful, but I really do hope that he gets some MVP votes also," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He puts those numbers up with the Red Sox, the Yankees or whoever this year, they'd be clamoring for him to win the award right now. I definitely believes he deserves some kind of respect there also."Young, who was let go by the Tigers during the 2006 season, earned his second career All-Star Game invitation with the Nationals in 2007. He hit a career-high .320, tied for eighth in the National League, and had 13 home runs, 74 RBIs and 38 doubles.
"This puts the stamp on everything I've been through, and what I accomplished this year from an individual standpoint," Young said. "And I shed some tears, I looked back, thought about my kids immediately, my parents, my brother and my sisters, all the friends who stuck with me when I was at my absolute lowest, and then the people I met along the way on my way back up."
Young had not finished a season at .300 or higher since hitting .302 with 21 homers and 69 RBIs for the Cincinnati Reds in 2001. He batted .250 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 48 games with the Detroit Tigers in 2006.Young was out of baseball altogether at the end of last season when he was released by the Tigers with less than a month left in the regular season. It was just one part of Young's troublesome year, which included an assault charge, treatment for alcoholism, a divorce and hospitalization for diabetes.
After joining the Nationals, Young practiced with players many years younger, but they kept him motivated by peppering him with questions about the big leagues."I started getting that love back for the game, every single day," said Young, who turns 34 this month. "There were days I didn't want to get up, but those kids were depending on me -- MY kids were depending on me. ... I had fun again. Baseball became fun. I didn't have fun last year." Once he joined the big club, Young became the type of vocal leader the rebuilding Nationals needed. As the trade deadline approached, the team opted to keep him rather than deal him, signing him to a two-year, $10 million contract extension. "He's certainly an inspiration for a lot of people who have made mistakes," general manager Jim Bowden said. "He had to understand there was zero tolerance. He couldn't make a mistake off the field. He didn't make a mistake off the field or on the field." Young said he will spend the offseason working himself into shape for playing the outfield, in case Nick Johnson returns healthy. Young also will start paying better attention to the lifestyle changes he needs to make to control his diabetes. "I didn't really change anything, but that's going to change when I get home," Young said. "When you're diabetic you have to follow things precisely, and with our baseball schedule I didn't follow it precisely at all."
The 30 team beat reporters from MLB.com selected the award winners. Previous winners include Jason Giambi and Ken Griffey Jr. in 2005 and and Jim Thome and Nomar Garciaparra in 2006.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.