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As a role player, Perez is a star

Eduardo Perez is a career reserve and does it with hard work and a smile.

By DAVE SCHEIBER
Published April 20, 2004

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Eduardo Perez helps out by studying pitchers, here aiding Toby Hall and bench coach John McLaren.

ST. PETERSBURG - When your father is a future Hall of Famer and you've just slugged your way to college baseball stardom, it's only natural to dream a little.

So who could blame Eduardo Perez, son of Cincinnati Reds great Tony Perez, for imagining the tantalizing possibilities after batting .377 with 11 home runs as a senior and helping lead Florida State to the 1991 College World Series?

But as it turned out, the heights Perez has reached in 10-plus seasons in the majors have come as a player best known for sitting down.

While the elder Perez had his Bench, as in Johnny, with the Big Red Machine, the younger Perez has a bench of his own, splinters and all.

In fact, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound outfielder and offseason acquisition of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays has built a reputation as a quintessential bench player. It's a role he has relished, as evidenced in his .285 batting average last season with St. Louis, a career slugging percentage of .423 and recent homer and winning pinch single for Tampa Bay.

"Everybody envisions being that superstar and being able to participate every day," Perez said before a game against the White Sox at Tropicana Field. "I felt that same way. Obviously, I'm not the superstar or anything. But I feel I can give to the team even when I'm not in there. I try to do little things to help out my teammates."

What Perez, 34, works on most in his understudy role is mental preparation, constantly studying videotapes of opposing pitchers to study tendencies and provide tips and insight to his teammates.

"I'm there for them, and when my own chances come, I feel like I've already been in the game mentally," he says. "The physical part of the game is the least of your worries. It's all about staying focused, doing your homework, knowing what your job is and being able to do it without hesitation."

Perez is an admitted computer and "gadget freak" who likes checking out the latest fare at the Mac Store in Tampa's International Plaza, carries an iPod and is a big-league e-mailer and instant messenger.

His comfort with technology comes in handy on the job. He relies heavily on detailed advance scouting footage, often scrutinizing it by himself, and rates the Cardinals and Rays video operations as top notch. "I feel like I've hit the lotto twice; those guys are just so prepared, and that way I can see what a team has in store for us a day before, so I won't be surprised in the game. It's all a definite chess game."

And Perez, who bats and throws righty, has had his share of winning moves. Among them:

Homered and doubled in his big-league debut with the team that drafted him in the first round in 1991, the California Angels (the first Perez family homer in Anaheim since his dad hit the winning 15th-inning shot in the 1967 All-Star Game).

Hit safely in 24 of 27 games subbing for injured Reds first baseman Hal Morris in 1997, and in 1998 hit an upper-deck homer in Cincinnati's Cinergy Field (he and his father, now an executive with the Florida Marlins, remain the only of baseball's 162 father-son duos to have homered in Cincinnati's upper deck.)

Hit three pinch-hit homers for the Cardinals in 2002, when his 10 pinch RBIs ranked third in the National League, and last season batted .353 with eight home runs against left-handers.

His value extends beyond balls and strikes. Perez is a popular player known for his big smile and upbeat personality, and he's multilingual, speaking not only English and Spanish. When he spots his former Japanese translator at the Trop - in the 2001 season, he played for Hanshin in Japan - Perez leaps up, gives the man a big hug and proceeds to converse in Japanese for three minutes.

"He got mad because I learned to speak a lot of Japanese on my own and didn't need him to interpret," he says with a laugh.

Perez also has had his share of struggles, with a string of injuries in the '90s and five trips to the minors. But he always played well there (.297 lifetime with 90 homers) and worked his way back to the bigs. He batted .222 in Japan before arthroscopic knee surgery cut his year short. Heading into 2004, he was hitting .247 lifetime with 58 homers. Coupled with his father's 379 career homers, the Perezes are fourth on the all-time father-son home run list.

Rays first baseman Tino Martinez, who played with him in St. Louis the past two seasons, is a fan.

"First of all, he's a true professional, the way he goes about his business every day," he says. "He's ready to pinch hit, to start. He helps the young guys. And he has a great attitude. He's one of those guys who when they're done playing will be a great coach or manager. He's a great teammate."

"We like him," Rays manager Lou Piniella adds. "He's done a nice job here, and he did a nice job with the Cardinals. ... He's a veteran player who can help out."

Perez, who resides in the offseason in Puerto Rico with his wife, Mirba, and 1-year-old daughter, Andreanna Sofia, likes being back in Florida, hearing "Go Seminoles" cries from the stands from FSU fans, and at least being in the same state as his father, though they haven't had time for get-togethers.

He's still settling in, hoping for chances to help, even something as mundane as volunteering to play catch with pitcher Chad Gaudin last week during a rain-drenched workout at Yankee Stadium.

"I just try to look at the positive of everything," he says. "It may be negative for some people. A lot of guys in baseball, they'll tell you they don't like coming off the bench. They think it's a difficult job. Hey, I'm glad a lot of people don't accept it. Because there's more demand for you if you can do it right."

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]

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