Getting a spot on a minor league all-star roster leads to mixed feelings for a lot of minor leaguers. It's a big honor, but it also means that the only three-day break of the entire season turns into a working holiday.
Juan Perez didn't mind. It may be a long trip from San Jose to Myrtle Beach, but the Giants' center fielder has a memory to remember forever.
Playing in front of his mother for the first time as a pro, Perez went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double, two runs scored and two RBIs as the California League defeated the Carolina League 4-3 in the league's annual all-star game.
While Perez was the MVP, pitching dominated the night. Multiple pitchers, led by Braves' top pitching prospect Teheran, topped 95 mph on the stadium radar gun. Tehran hit a game-high 98 mph on the gun while striking out two in two innings of work. California League starter Craig Westcott (Giants) struck out the side in the first.
Perez played a hand in the first three runs, but Stephen Parker's single proved to be the game winner as he singled off of shortstop Greg Miclat's glove to score Rich Poythress. Brad Brach (Padres) used a funky three-quarters delivery and mid 90s heat to pick up the save with a scoreless ninth. Bryan Woodall's scoreless eighth inning earned him the win.
Perez put on a show in the pre-game home derby, doubled to start the game then scored by aggressively tagging on a fly ball and scoring on the subsequent throwing error. And all of that was just the warm-up act for his second at-bat, when he hit a two-run home run to left that wrapped up the game's MVP award.
It's hard to think that anyone else would enjoy the honor more because Perez has come a long, long ways to get here.
As a high school baseball star in the Bronx, he went unnoticed and undrafted. Since he loved the game, he kept playing in a weekend pick-up league. Now this isn't your ordinary pick-up league, the La Caribe League in New York is filled with Latin ex-minor leaguers (and some big leaguers). The level of competition is not far below that of the minor leagues.
Perez held his own in the toughest pickup league in the country. That was enough to catch the eye of a friend of an Oklahoma junior college coach, who was convinced to offer Perez a scholarship two years after he graduated high school.
Perez stepped in at Western Oklahoma JC and found that the level of competition was no problem after play in La Caribe. He hit .465 with 37 home runs and 102 RBIs in only 64 games. He set the Division II home run record and finished only one home run off of the all-time junior college record while ensuring he was an easy choice as the D-II Juco player of the year. That helped him finally get noticed as the Giants drafted him in the 13th round in 2008.
Playing primarily second base last year, Perez hit only .244/.283/.383 for low Class A Augusta in 2009, but he's taken to a move to center field. The 23-year-old is hitting .327/.372/.523 for San Jose this season with 33 extra-base hits and 139 total bases (third-best in the league).
"Juan's a great kid. He has tremendous ability—speed, power, defense," San Jose manager Brian Harper said. "But even more he's a quality kid. He's a leader in the clubhouse."
"This was unbelievable; it was like a dream come true," Perez said. "I had to work a lot harder. I knew I had a chance to play pro ball (even when he went undrafted) because a lot of ex-pro guys I played with told me I could do it. It's a pro league, it's ex-minor leaguers, ex-big leaguers. I faced a lot of good pitching in that league. I said if I can hit these guys I can play in the minors if I can ever get a chance."
A sellout crowd of 6,599 came out to watch the second Carolina-California League all-star game to be played in Myrtle Beach in three years–neither of which was supposed to be in Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans stepped up when Potomac declined to host the game in 2008. This year the Winston-Salem Dash decided last September that the effort needed to open the new park would not give them the chance to adequately prepare and promote the game, so Myrtle Beach again offered to be the replacement.
They do a good job with it. A surprising number of fans were already at the park when the gates opened at 3 p.m., and by the time the home run derby started at 5 p.m. a decent crowd was cheering the home runs. The Pelicans also lined up former NFL star Jerome Bettis and former MLB star Reggie Sanders to throw out the first pitches and kept a steady stream of mascots, chainsaw jugglers and Village People impersonators going between innings to keep the fans entertained.
For a park that likes to swat down home runs with a steady wind that blows in from the coast, Myrtle Beach's BB&T Coastal Field gave up some home runs on Tuesday. In addition to Perez's home run, Oscar Tejada (Red Sox) squared up a line-drive home run to left. Jordan Pacheco almost hit one off of Julio Teheran as well, but Brandon Short reached over the wall to rob him of a home run.
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