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It's All Child's Play For Perez; Son Of Hall-Of-Famer Tony Perez Walks His Own Path In The Major Leagues
by DENNIS MAFFEZZOLI
February 29, 2004
Eduardo Perez grew up playing in parks, but not the kind of playgrounds with swings and sliding boards.
The son of a Major League Baseball player, Eduardo hung out at places like Al Lopez Field in Tampa and Plant City Stadium in Plant City, where his father, Tony, would be working.
While Tony was playing first base for the Cincinnati Reds, Eduardo would be taking all the bubble gum, playing catch in the outfield and occasionally serving as bat boy.
"I was just being a kid," Eduardo said. "The clubhouse staff was patient with the kids who were around."
Mainly a basketball player during his high school days in Puerto Rico, Eduardo didn't begin taking baseball seriously until he attended Florida State University. While his father was Eduardo's biggest influence growing up, the Seminoles' staff, led by Manager Mike Martin, helped mold Perez into a first-round draft pick.
"Everybody said I was raw when I got to college," Perez said.
When the Angels selected Eduardo with the 17th overall pick of the 1991 draft, he became the fifth son of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine to be taken in the first round, joining Brian McRae, Lee May Jr., Ken Griffey Jr. and Ed Sprague. Having a father in the business helped immensely when Eduardo signed his first professional contract.
"You know what it's like going in," Eduardo said. "You're not in awe of the situation. It's a comfortable atmosphere."
There are drawbacks, too, but that's not an area Eduardo wants to dwell on.
"If you do, you're in trouble," Perez said. "There's always disadvantages."
Comparing him to his father is the main one. Tony played 23 years with the Reds, Expos, Phillies and Red Sox. He batted .279 with 379 home runs, which earned him a shrine in Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. He currently works in the Florida Marlins front office as a baseball operations assistant.
"We're two different individuals," Eduardo said. "I share half of his genes. I also share half of my mom's genes. People always think you're going to be like your father. Then they realize you can only be yourself. If I'm half the person he is, I'm a great individual."
Eduardo played parts of three seasons with the Angels, before being traded to Cincinnati, where the comparisons were made more frequently.
"There's no pressure, only what you put on yourself," Eduardo said. "To me this is a kid's game and you enjoy it. You try to make it as fun as you can. Once you do that, there's no pressure."
Following the 1998 season, after hitting .253 and .238 the previous two seasons with the Reds, he signed as a free agent with St. Louis.
It was the first of his two stints with the Cardinals. Mixed in was a season with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japanese Central League.
Following last season, when he hit .285 with 11 homers and 41 RBI in during 105 games with the Cardinals, Perez signed as a free agent with the Devil Rays.
Despite other offers, he accepted a two-year contract without being guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup. There was some intrigue on his part. Admitting he had a good time for playing for Manager Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, Eduardo always wondered what it would be like performing for Lou Piniella.
"I was curious," Eduardo said. "You want to go with people who have that great reputation. Lou only knows how to win. He doesn't settle for anything else."
There were other reasons, such as the upside of the Rays and the Tampa Bay area. But playing for Piniella, who Tony coached under in Cincinnati, ranks near the top.
"He can swing the bat," Piniella said of Eduardo, who will be used at first base, third, left field and designated hitter primarily against left-handed pitching. "He knows how to come off the bench swinging it. Plus, he gives some versatility. He gives us a good bat coming off the bench. And Eduardo will do a nice job with our younger kids."
Not being a regular entering spring training doesn't bother Eduardo.
"I signed here and I take responsibility on doing what I'm told to do," Eduardo said. "Right now, I'm just a soldier. I go out and do what I'm told to do. I'm not one to dwell on why don't I get playing time or anything like that. I have no problem with it. We're playing a game, and a game is supposed to be fun."
Just like playing in the playground.