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St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Perez Answers Role Call

Versatile Cardinal appreciates chance to contribute coming off of the bench.

Dan O'Neill Of The Post-Dispatch

May 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

The statement tells you much of what you need to know about Eduardo Perez, his person, his character, his approach to life.

"My perfect day is to not get cheated, it's a healthy day, pain- free day and a day we get a win," said Perez, 33. "That's perfect."

So it always has been. Eduardo Atanacio Perez, son of Hall of Famer and Big Red Machinist Tony Perez, has never played baseball to prove a point. He has never played to fill his father's footsteps. He has not carried that cross, never set his goals by others' standards, never had a personal agenda.

He puts value in everything he does, expects to get out nothing more than what he puts in. That approach makes his dynamic smile easily accessible, makes him popular with his teammates and coaches and makes him an important part of the Cardinals environment.

"My dad never pressured me to play the game," said Perez, who as a kid took batting practice at Riverfront Stadium and played catch with the likes of Joe Morgan, Dave Parker and Dave Concepcion.

"My dad didn't want my brother and I to have to go out there and play the game because of who we were. At my little league games, I hardly ever saw him. His reasoning was, 'I'm not going to be the one forcing you to play' and all the other parents would be, 'Look at my son, look at my son.'

"I have always played because I have a passion for it. . . . I enjoy playing it, I enjoy the strategy of it and I enjoy the way you can utilize an entire ballclub in your favor. And that's what's done here. All 25 guys have a part in this and it's a big part."

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Perez was a formidable athlete in high school and college. He had a career batting average of .456 at Robinson High in Puerto Rico and was voted the team's Most Valuable Player three times. He led Florida State to the 1991 College World Series in his senior year, batting .377 with 11 home runs, 58 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases in 69 games. Like four sons of Cincinnati stars before him -- Brian McRae (1985), Ken Griffey Jr. (1985), Lee May Jr. (1987) and Ed Sprague (1988), he was a first- round pick in the amateur draft.

He had every reason to anticipate a high-profile career. But it hasn't exactly happened that way. Perez had opportunities with the Angels, the organization that drafted him. He made his debut at Anaheim in 1993 and in his first big-league game hit a home run in the same ballpark where his father had homered during the 1967 All- Star Game. He began the 1994 season as the Angels' first baseman, but couldn't hold the job. He started the 1995 campaign as the third baseman, but batted .169 in 29 games before being optioned out. In between were injuries that slowed his progress and hampered his performance.

"Early in my career, I had the misfortune of having some injuries and being switched from position to position," Perez said. "It's helped me out in the long run, it's made me more versatile. But when you're young and you want to play every day, it's harder to accept. You want to be out there playing."

That part hasn't changed. Perez still wants to play every chance he gets. But it's not the bottom line, never was.

"The bottom line is winning," said Perez, who last year played 17 games in right field, three in left, four at first base and one as a designated hitter. "I'm a role player in a winning organization. Not a lot of people in the world can say that, so I go out there and take pride in what I do."

Perez added the aura of his father does not burden him with unrealistic expectations or undo pressure. Just the contrary. "I see it as I have the advantage in that I know the game," he added. "I know what it takes and I know there are sacrifices that have to be made in order to win."

Earlier this season, Perez started in right field and willingly made su ch a sacrifice. With Cardinals starter Woody Williams throwing a no-hit shutout in the sixth inning, Milwaukee's Eric Young sent a line drive toward the right field corner. Perez gave chase and, despite the menacing gravel of the warning track, made a diving attempt to keep Williams' no-no alive. He missed the catch but didn't miss the track, suffering deep scrapes on his arms and a bruised hip.

"That's the way Eddie plays," Williams said. "That's why his teammates all respect him."

Perez represented a substantial threat coming off the bench last season. He had three pinch-hit home runs and his 10 RBIs as a pinch- hitter ranked third in the league. He also cracked a pinch-hit home run off Giants starter Jason Schmidt in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. He finished with 10 home runs overall and 26 RBIs. But he was not at all pleased with his overall batting average of .201.

"That's not me," said Perez. "I believe I can better myself. I'm more mature. I think I grew a lot last year after the first half. I think I'm a better player now."

First base is generally regarded to be Perez's best position, but he has made significant strides as an outfielder. The improvements are a result of his work ethic, a principle that endears him to his manager. "You watch," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "On the days he is playing, naturally he's working. But you watch him on the days he's not starting, he'll be working just as hard.

"Eddie is very bright. You never have to tell him about the game. . . . A guy comes in and is hanging his head a little bit, Eddie will tell him, 'Keep going, you'll be all right.' He knows when to pat a guy at the right time. He's got a terrific understanding of the game."

Sure, he got a lot of that baseball sense from his famous father. But in many ways, he is more like his mother. She too was a role player.

"I think I'm a lot like my mom," Perez said. "I think I have the happy-go-lucky part that is my father, but my mom is the same way. Everybody always sees me as Tony Perez's son. But the intriguing part of it is when I was growing up, my dad was on the road trips a lot and my mom is the one that took care of us. She instilled a lot of things in us.

"It was great. My mom had to play both roles, she was more of the disciplinarian in the family. She did a great job."

Those who know Eduardo Perez, and appreciate the job he does for the Cardinals, would eagerly concur.

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