Rays center fielder Fernando Perez was quite popular this spring. At least two St. Petersburg-area newspapers ran brief features on the 25-year-old speedster, focusing mostly on his Ivy League background.
Yes, Perez studied at Columbia for four years, but he's also entering his fifth year as a professional ballplayer. And he's a good one.
He was generous enough to give his time and his thoughtful responses, so it seemed a shame to limit our presentation to a Triple-A feature—even if that feature is 1,700 words.
Think of this Player's Perspective as supplemental material.
Adjusting to life in Triple-A
"In Double-A, you knew it was going to be the team for at least half the time, but we've had four or five guys get moved up already. So it's very, very difficult as a manager to convince his guys that this is about baseball and not about your own social mobility. Because it's so clear in one sense that what we're doing is trying to provide band-aids for the big league team. So that can be very, very distracting."
"You're given a lot more freedoms in Triple-A, but if you can deal with those distractions, I haven't really seen too much difference in the actual baseball—although it's certainly a little bit tighter, a little bit better."
"But just in this first 10 days, I've seen just as many guys miss the cutoff man and miss their spots and chase pitches and make errors. So I try to recognize both sides of the coin."
Quality of Triple-A pitching
"Pitchers don't give in here. They don't mind walking you. You know, 3-2, they're trying to make a good pitch, not just try to throw a strike. I've seen very surprising pitch sequences."
"I don't think there's anything straight anymore, in general. I laugh about how baseball has changed so much. In Low A, everybody throws something straight. As soon as you see something with a curve in it, it's not going to be a strike. Nobody wants to throw anything straight anymore."
"I think I have trouble with the guys who throw slow, hitting lefthanded. The best thing for me is to see a guy who throws really, really hard. I don't really know what I'm doing, so if I just try to touch it, I'll make some contact. It's a funny psychology of how I learned how to hit—basically just standing there and trying to look like I knew what I was doing."
Developing one's batting eye
"My eye got sharp that first year I hit lefthanded in Visalia. Within the first few days I figured out that my swing was so bad that I wasn't going to be able to hit anything but a strike. The handicap actually was an advantage, and still can be when I use the same approach from those primeval stages of hitting lefthanded—thinking only about the strike zone. Especially in upper level baseball when pitchers are so adept at throwing pitches that look like strikes almost the whole way toward the plate."
Using on-base percentage for self-assessment
"It's the only important stat for a leadoff hitter. When I'm on base a lot, everything goes well for everyone. Fastballs for all, RBI opportunities for the tall guys, runs on the board, excited fans, happy GM, et cetera."
(Editor's note: Perez ranked second in the Double-A Southern League with a .423 OBP in 2007.)
Persevering through tough times
"The feeling that hits a lot of guys of questioning what they're doing, that's just a part of minor league baseball, no matter who you are. I've talked to top, top picks who've had their 'man, I don't think I should be here moment.' It depends who you are. There are guys that when things are going wrong, they run away. And there are guys who like to stick it out."
"Right now, I'm not playing very good baseball, but we're only 10 games in. I can panic about it, or go out and have a good game today. That's something that I've gotten progressively better at—not worry about those types of games. Just focus on looking forward and forward and forward."
"You never know when is going to be the last time you adjust, and that's the challenge of every year. You can do it in Low A. Well can you do it in High A? You can do it in High A. Can you do it in Double-A? You can do it in Double-A. Can you do it in Triple-A? You can do it in Triple-A. You're supposed to be able to do it, but some guys don't do it, you know?"
Even more on learning to switch-hit
"Even though I was ready for Double-A (in 2006), I was going to go to High A anyway, because of all the great players ahead of me—you know, (Jason) Pridie, (Elijah) Dukes, (Rocco) Baldelli, all those great outfielders. So I think that they felt no real pressure to set me back a little bit to learn this new skill."
"I'm happy with it now. I've certainly had my moments. There have been times when some people would see me hit a whole series against all lefthanded pitchers and ask, 'Why the hell did you ever switch to begin with?' And then I've had days when it's a little bit harder. I have to concentrate more to really stay on top of myself. But I think, generally, my ceiling is better as a lefthanded hitter."
"This is the first year that I've felt pretty comfortable. Last year it was still awkward. Even at the end of the year I had to really, really, really work at it. This year I feel really comfortable in there, a lot more confident."
"The more and more that you swing is how you improve. I guess I've had less than 1,000 career at-bats lefthanded. I never even messed around with it in high school. I just started in 2006. Every year, with the reps and the muscle memory, it looks a little bit different—kind of an evolution."
"But at this point, I still get that feeling you get when you do something you've never done before—like when I hit my first home run while batting lefthanded (Editor's note: It was a three-run shot off Lancaster righthander Cody Evans on Aug. 1, 2006). I remember thinking, 'What the hell was that?' All I was trying to do was line the ball over the second baseman's head, but it ended up being a 400-foot home run to center field."
Favorite players growing up
"It's hilarious, and I haven't gotten to meet him yet, but one of my favorite players was Alvaro Espinoza. My family was huge Yankee fans back when they were bad. And then they stayed on when the dynasty was beginning. But they grew a little disenchanted when the Yankees started purchasing the world. Yeah, we were big Yankee fans."
"My favorite players were all just random guys . . . Espinoza, Jesse Barfield, Mel Hall, Eric Plunk, Roberto Kelly. There were no Mets people; it was a Yankee family."
"My favorite player of all time when I was young was Dave Stewart, just because he was, uh, black (laughs). Because he wore his hat really low. It was part of the colors, too. I was an Oakland fan, too, because that was our Little League team's colors. So I was a big Dave Stewart fan, and I'd wear my hat just like him."
Northern views on academics vs. athletics
"You can't really succeed if you don't do it. Usually the high school kid who can play a bunch of sports, the parents are telling him, 'Maybe you should give a few of those up so you can maybe make a run at a scholarship.' I don't think it's good. It's really a limited experience. I'm really glad my parents never really pushed me into anything like that. They just made sure I was having fun with it."
"Baseball was really just a thing I liked, but soccer was the really serious sport. I was in a really intense academic high school (Peddie School, Hightstown, N.J.) and my priorities on everything changed. That's common in the north. Up north, when a great athlete quits sports, it's not a big deal as long as he's still going to school. In the South, when a great athlete quits sports, something is mortally wrong with him."