Eduardo Perez is smiling. That's no surprise, of course, because Perez is always smiling. In this case, he's smiling as a reporter goes over his basic job requirement -- start at first base every few days, when a left-hander is on the mound, and be a strong veteran presence in the clubhouse.
"It's a great gig, isn't it?" Perez says, that smile growing wider. Perhaps the gig sounds easy on the surface. After all, who wouldn't want to be paid $1.8 million to be a part-time player? But platooning in the big leagues while trying to stay hot at the plate can be a difficult balance for a player. That's why Perez makes the money he makes, and that's why the Indians thought so highly of him when they signed him as a free agent this past offseason. "He's a consummate pro," manager Eric Wedge says. "He's a strong man with a lot of ability." And, to put it in the most elementary of terms, he's a heck of a nice guy, too. Rare is the day when the 36-year-old Perez isn't joking around with his teammates or offering a friendly hello to a beat writer or clubbie. "He's very personable and outgoing," says third baseman Aaron Boone, himself a card-carrying member of baseball's "Mr. Nice Guy" club. "He's a great guy to have in your locker room. He's real loose, but he also has a lot to offer to a team." It took Perez a little while in his career to determine just where he fit in best. The son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, he grew up around the game, as he was in the Reds' clubhouse during the "Big Red Machine" years almost as often as his famous father. But from the time Perez was taken in the first round of the 1991 draft by the California Angels, his career was slower to hit its stride than his dad's had been. Perez bounced around from the Angels to the Reds to the Cardinals before he spent the 2001 season playing Japanese ball. When he returned to the States, Perez had a better perspective on his value in the big leagues. The Cardinals brought him back and made him a utility player, and he came through with 10 pinch-hit RBIs, as well as an eighth-inning, pinch-hit home run in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. "I found my niche," Perez says of that 2002 season. "Once you find that, as a player, you have to recognize what your value is to a team. My value is what I'm doing right now." Egos need not apply for Perez's job. But smiles and a good attitude are welcome. Those are two prerequisites Perez certainly has. "He's a carefree, fun-loving guy," Wedge says. "He has a strong personality -- and a lot of personality." No matter his surroundings, Perez takes that personality with him. He's now on his fifth big-league team, and it's safe to say there isn't a clubhouse that exists that he wouldn't find a way to fit into. "I'm just going to be myself," he says. "In good times and bad times, you have to be yourself. I think that translates into more of a comfort zone for the rest of these guys. It's me, it's my personality and it has nothing to do with the game. It's how I am in the offseason and during the season."
The way Perez sees it, a good attitude off the field can lead to a good performance on it. Sure, he doesn't get to play every day, but that doesn't mean he can't find a way to enjoy himself and make the most of his playing time.
"It's just like in college, when you don't play every day," he says. "In college, you just play on weekends. What's the difference now? You don't play every day, but you've got to be ready to step up when you do. You can't use [not playing every day] as an excuse."
Perez has had plenty of time to groom that philosophy, and he admits his strong clubhouse presence was aided by the fact he grew up around the game.
"It's all I know," he says. "I figure if my dad was a doctor, I'd know a lot about medicine."
But baseball is a lot more fun, isn't it?
Perez smiles at the question, then repeats his mantra.
"It's a great gig," he says.
: : : This Edition: May 3, 2006 : : :
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.