|© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
Perez rising steadily up Rays ranks06/27/2008 8:00 AM ET
By Tim Britton / MLB.com
Fernando Perez's at-bat music at Durham Bulls Athletic Park is Stevie Wonder's 1965 hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)." But it could just as easily be another chart-topper from that era: Hank Snow's "I've Been Everywhere."
Now in his fifth season in pro baseball, Perez has played for Hudson Valley, Southwest Michigan, Visalia, Montgomery and now Durham. That journey has helped give the 25-year-old center fielder a unique perspective on playing in the Bull City. And Perez, who was born in New York City but grew up in Princeton, N.J., knows how lucky he is.
"There's probably not anywhere better than Durham," Perez says in the self-assured and well-paced voice of a Columbia graduate. "I've had a handful of managers say to me that it's the best place to play not in the big leagues, and it's definitely lived up to it."
Perez's migratory career path has caused him to evolve a routine at each new location. Once assigned to a team, he quickly finds a place to live before seeking out the best spots for lunch. In Durham, that includes The Federal and Alivia's, two restaurants a short trip from DBAP along the city's main drag in downtown.
Perez tries to settle in and become a bit of a regular, in part because of how tough it can be to get a sense of the community at other times.
"Most of getting to know the city is purely coincidental," Perez says with a shrug of the shoulders. "It's not like we can attend cultural events around here and get to know the town."
The former seventh-round pick has grown acclimated to the transitory nature of his profession. He admits to feeling homeless in a way, with even New York City seeming a little foreign in the offseason.
"It's just something you live with," he explains. "It's sort of a thing when you're growing up and all you have is home, and all you're doing is being at home, you kind of crave being out on the road and sleeping in a different place all the time. It's kind of 'the grass is greener' everywhere else. Now, when you're in this, it seems like the most satisfying thing to do would be to be on one team for four or five years. To me, that's my goal in baseball."
It's a goal Perez has made steady progress toward during his career. Coming into 2008, he had raised his batting average and on-base percentage each year, even as he moved up a level each season. Even though he's behind that pace this year, he's hopeful that some adjustments will help him top the .308 average and .423 OBP he had with Double-A Montgomery last year.
"It's definitely been a rough year for me," Perez says. "I'm hoping in the second half I get to really show the type of player I have been in the past. It's a tough league, and it's definitely been a little bit more difficult than I anticipated. But it's baseball. Most years I make that adjustment, and I'm counting on the same this year."
So how does a Columbia grad help get out of a slump? Easy.
He gets a Mohawk.
"When you're a little out of sorts any time in the season, you can't be afraid to try anything for leverage. I tried it, and things are maybe two to three degrees better," Perez said. "Even the players who are not superstitious are a little superstitious."
He hasn't taken too much ribbing in the clubhouse for the 'do, mainly because it seems to be working. The Columbia thing, on the other hand.
"It's everybody's favorite joke when I do something stupid or something very normal and human," he says. "Like, 'How did you get into Columbia?'"
There are more than a few "How did I's," and "What if's" in Perez's life. One of the biggest hypothetical situations occupying his thoughts recently came about when 19-year-old third baseman Dayan Viciedo defected to the United States from Cuba. Perez, who is of Cuban heritage, often wonders how his life could have been different.
"I think a great many of the circumstances that you're afforded in life are really coincidental," he says. "Maybe I would have been a guy who comes here for a tournament and defects, and be a guy who doesn't speak English very well, and be far away from my family. But things were written a little bit differently back then."
Perez is a bit of a writer himself -- he kept a journal for MiLB.com last season -- but for now, he's focusing purely on baseball. And those adjustments seemed to be working Saturday night against Norfolk. After singling in the third inning, Perez stole second and third before scoring on a wild pitch. In his next at-bat, he took a quicker route home, launching a two-run blast, his second long ball of the season.
So maybe his at-bat music is right. Baby, everything is alright.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.