Perez healthy, set to contribute
Maddon plans to utilize outfielder off bench in stretch run
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Fernando Perez was recuperating from left wrist surgery in March, he had to be creative while trying to stay active.
Perez would kick a soccer ball around the outfield before games to keep his legs conditioned. He'd chat with teammates about stealing bases and taking pitches.
And, occasionally, Perez would dip into a notebook and write, following the lead of some of his off-field inspirations -- poets Robert Creeley and John Ashberry -- even as he sat a few feet from his on-field inspiration, Carl Crawford.
It has been a summer featuring the best of both worlds for Perez, a 26-year-old outfielder for the Rays, who has appeared in just one game this season yet has remained in the Tampa Bay clubhouse since Spring Training. Cooped up after surgery to repair a dislocated left wrist he injured near the end of March, Perez has remained with the team since, however distant the reality of his situation may have made it.
Perez's activation off the 60-day disabled list on Tuesday wasn't a callup as it was for the three other Rays players -- Andy Sonnanstine, Jeff Bennett and Shawn Riggans -- who were brought in when rosters expanded. Perez has been with Tampa Bay the whole time.
The time with the team has allowed Perez, who appeared in 23 regular-season games and five postseason games as a rookie last season, to experience life at the big league level, from afar and with a unique perspective.
"Just being here and being around it is enough to kind of make you a little more comfortable when you're in there," Perez said. "It's been great. It really was a perfect situation."
Perez spent the first two months after the injury with his hand in a cast. When it was finally removed in June, the process of rehabbing it to the point of gripping a bat was a slow and arduous process. He began swinging a broom stick; then, dry cuts with a bat. Finally, by mid-July, he started taking batting practice.
"When I took the first swings with a bat off a tee, I remember thinking I was pretty sure I wasn't going to play this year. Just the way that it felt -- very painful," Perez said. "I remember the first time I swung the bat left-handed, thinking, 'There's no way I'm ever going to hit left-handed again.' All these kind of things swirled in my head. I just tried to be professional about it, not read too much into what was going on, and just get out there and play."
The retooling of many aspects of his game would've taken a mental toll, too, Perez admitted, except he was having too much fun being with the Rays. That, and other extracurricular activities kept him occupied.
Perez, who has blogged for The New York Times and graduated from the creative writing program at Columbia University, has his first published work in the most recent issue of Poetry magazine, the nation's premiere monthly outlet for poetry.
Perez considers poetry and prose a hobby, along with the soccer ball he occasionally juggles around before games in the outfield. All to keep his mind off his ailing wrist.
"There are definitely worse states in the world than being on the Major League disabled list," Perez joked.
Now that's he back and ready to play, Perez's role with the Rays will likely be limited to pinch-running and defensive replacement. Manager Joe Maddon said Perez hasn't had enough at-bats to be declared fully ready to take many swings. Perez went on a brief Minor League rehab stint and played in 13 games with Triple-A Durham in mid-August. He batted .278 with 10 runs and eight steals.
He feels that while the physical aspects of his game may be rusty, mentally he's only sharpened his acumen. Being immersed in the day-to-day activities of a big league club, even from a distance, has given Perez a new perspective. And he's ready to show it.
"When you're away from it, when you're not up in the Major Leagues, you kind of have this feeling that everything is so daunting and so far off and difficult," Perez said. "But when you're up close, and you're in it and you're seeing it every day, it actually kind of gets more humanized for you. It becomes a little bit more achievable, something easier to handle."
Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.