Sunday, February 7, 2010

The First Latino Ivy-League Major Leaguer

As I'm attempting to write my Masters Thesis, I decide to write about the 1st Latino Ivy League major leaguer. Now, before I go into who this is, allow me to give some background information. Unlike many American baseball players that make their way up the ranks of Little League, Babe Ruth Ball, High School, College and eventually Pro ball. For some first and second generation Latino-Americans like Rafael Palmiero (Mississippi State University), Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez (minus college ball for Manny and A-Rod) this is the path that led him to baseball. Even early Latino baseball pioneer Luis Castro played college ball at Manhattan College before playing professionally (Click on his name to see the prior blog post about him). But they are the exception rather than the norm. Things are a little different for Latino ballplayers.

Since the majority of the Latino ballplayers come from the lower segments of society, they don't have the opportunities afforded to them like their American counterparts. Where in the past, many a Latino ballplayer like Juan Marichal played ball for a company team and later a military team, young ballplayers today throw their lot in with the baseball academies that are being built by Major League teams in places like the Dominican Republic. Out of the thousands of kids that tryout and eventually get in to the academies, only a small percentage ever make it to the Minors let alone the Majors. In being able to tap a market such as this, the players are not subjected to such mechanisms like the draft and can be signed to a minimal amount compared to players such as Stephen Strasberg of San Diego State University who received a $7.5 million dollar signing bonus as the #1 player drafted in 2009. I'm not saying that middle or upper middle class kids don't play college ball in their home countries and make the pros, it just benefits the Major Leagues financially to tap the market available to them from the lower class. It is a system that has come under fire in recent years due to scandals of kick-backs and bribes. So, now that I established that, allow me to introduce you to the 1st Latino Major Leaguer: Fernando Perez of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Perez was born on April 23, 1983 in Elizabeth, New Jersey playing different sports like many children tend to do in their early years. It was in attending the prestigous Peddie School in Hightown, New Jersey that he bacame a standout in baseball. Upon his graduation from the Peddie School, Perez attended Ivy League Institution Columbia University, where he majored in studied American studies and creative writing. (Photo Credit Getty Images)

Perez played a total of 3 years for the Columbia Lions. In his final year at Columbia, Perez hit .317, led the team with 18 stolen bases, legged out two triples and was a second-team All-Ivy League selection. He was selected by the Tempa Bay Rays in the 7th Round (195th Overall) of the 2004 MLB Draft while graduating with his degree in American Studies.

Perez spent 2004 with the Hudson Valley Renegades of the New York Penn League. In 69 games he stole 24 bases and scored 46 runs.

2005 saw Perez moving up the ranks and playing for the on the Single-A Southwest Michigan Devil Rays, now known as the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League earning player of the year honors by hitting .289, scoring 93 runs, hitting 17 doubles and 13 triples. In 2006, Perez was promoted to the upper level Single-A Visalia Oaks, (now the Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Florida State League) of the California League. Perez earned MVP honors by hitting .307 and had a minor league-leading 123 runs scored, and stole 33 bases. In doing so, Perez had earned an invite to the major league spring training in 2007.

Though he did not make the big league club, he started the season at Double-A Montgomery Biscuits of the Southern League where he had 121 hits, 84 runs, and a set the team's single-season record of 32 stolen bases.

In 2008, Perez was promoted to the Triple-A Durham Bulls of the International League where he batted .288 with 86 runs scored, 43 stolen bases and 11 triples. Perez ranked second in the International League in runs, was third in steals and tied for second in triples before his call up to the eventual American League Champion Tampa Bay Rays on September 1.

For the Rays in the stretch run, Perez hit .250 in 60 AB with 15 Hits (2 2B, 0 3B, 3 HR) 8 RBI and 5 SB to earn a spot on the post-season roster for the Rays. Perez started Game two of the ALDS against the Chicago White Sox and in total (ALDS, ALCA vs. Boston, and the WS against Philadelphia), Perez hit .111 with 1 hit in 9 at-bats and only 1 stolen base.

2009 saw Perez plagued by injuries (a dislocated left wrist in March and shoulder surgery in the offseason). He had .206 average ammasing only 34 at-bats with 7 hits and 2 RBI.

Whether or not he'll find much playing time on the Rays major league roster remains to be seen. Experts say he'll be ready in time for spring training. All I can say is that I'm proud that we Latinos have someone our kids can look up to. Someone who we can say "See this young man, he's proficient not only on the field of play but in the field of education". Through hard work and dedication anything can be achieved. Keep at it Fernando, we're pulling for you.

On a side note, Fernando is the only Major League to ever be published in Poetry Magazine, having done so in the September 2009 issue. To read the poem, click here.

Additional Links:
The New York Times article on Fernando Perez from October 4, 2008
The MLB.com player page for Fernando Perez
The Fernando Perez statistics page from The Baseball Cube (AMAZING!!!)
An article on the Columbia Lions website from February 2007 on Fernando Perez
To read the journal kept by Fernando Perez in 2007 while with the Montgomery Biscuits, click here.
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