Rain or Shine
Rain. More rain. So much rain that ball fields became too soggy even for the fairy-light footsteps of a little girls' softball team. But the season had already begun, and the Eagle Paint Minors' coach wanted his girls to be ready.
So Angel R. Pena held batting practice in his backyard.
Mr. Pena was the Joe Torre of River Vale, N.J., girls sports. Whether it was softball, basketball or soccer, whether his girls Melissa and Sara played or not, he dedicated himself to his teams. "He had a sense of magic about him," said Walter L. Slasinski, president of River Vale's Baseball/Softball Association.
Mr. Pena, 45, and his wife, Michele, lived across from Alexander Field, and he sometimes borrowed a lawn tractor to groom the diamond before a game. He ran a bilingual law practice for 16 years and then in August went to work at the insurance company Aon at the World Trade Center.
That same month, before the last game of the season, Mr. Pena hung American flags and bunting around Alexander Field.
The girls played well, but Melissa's team lost. They celebrated anyway.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on December 4, 2001.
Angel Pena, 45, athletic dad and coach
This summer, Angel Pena wanted to do something extra for the River Vale youth baseball and softball league.
A coach, board member and regular fan, Mr. Pena went with his daughter, Melissa, to the township's Alexander Field and began to decorate it with flags and bunting.
"And lots of those little triangle ones," said Michele, his wife. "All red, white and blue . . . It's fitting that they were American flags, isn't it?"
Mr. Pena was a senior client specialist at AON Risk Services on the 96th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower when the hijacked airliners struck on Sept. 11. He remains among the missing. Mr. Pena was 45.
Born out of his two daughters' participation and his own love of the game, Mr. Pena's devotion to the River Vale Baseball/Softball Association took up much of his spare time. He also coached youth basketball and was just starting to coach soccer.
"When we had free time, we would go over and watch a game, even if the girls weren't playing," said Michele, a teacher in Tenafly public schools. "We don't live far from it, and we would just sit on the hill."
Mr. Pena was also an avid gardener, and this summer took a special liking to black-eyed Susans. "No matter what window I look out of, there are perennial gardens," said his wife. "They will always be there."
A native of Lodi, Mr. Pena graduated from Southern Connecticut State University and earned his law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law. He is a former township attorney and municipal prosecutor in River Vale.
In addition to his wife and daughters Melissa and Sara, Mr. Pena is survived by his parents, Alejandro and Angeles Pena, and his brother Alex, all of Lodi.
A Celebration of Life Mass will be held Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at St. John the Baptist Church in Hillsdale. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Melissa and Sara Pena Family Foundation, c/o Thomas Meli, 50 Central Ave., Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. 07604.
Profile by John Mooney published in THE STAR-LEDGER.