The journey from the minors to the majors can be a long drawn out process. There are many athletes with the skills to succeed, but many fall off from the lack of will or desire to stay along the path. A prospect may jump right through the system and make his debut faster than the blink of an eye, or another may go home each off season with the hopes that he will be called back. It’s never guaranteed that anyone of these players has what the big club is looking for, but in the minor league system, you have players from all walks of life coming together for the common goal; learn to play the game the right way and work their butts off to impress the organization and the fans.
What is most impressing to me is when you have a player that travels thousands of miles away from what he is used to; from another country, from his culture, to embrace a nation that is so rich in baseball talent and to just want to be accepted. Sometimes the language is a barrier, sometimes its just wanting to be known and other times its just wanting to know that they belong.
About a month ago, I started to follow a young man on Twitter that plays for the Kingsport Mets, and he seemed very gracious to make the connection and even more when I would wish him well during his games. We got to talking a little and we shared a common linkage to his native country of Colombia, when I shared that my wife is Colombian and I loved the food.
I have always been intrigued to get to know the players that come from many miles away just for the opportunity; they are young but willing to leave what they are used to, for a chance to star at the sport they love. Its my passion in writing that allows me to want to share their story, because you may only know what you see on the field, but what is most intriguing is what are they like off it.
Pedro Perez hails from Cartegana, Colombia. In 2011, and at only 16 years old, the Mets signed him to play the corner infield positions and sent him to play in the Dominican Summer League. In his first season at pro ball, and in 61 games, Pedro batted .262, 26 runs scored, 9 doubles, triple, home run, 24 runs batted in, and 15 stolen bases. Not bad for a player leaving home so young to start his pro career. In 2012, Pedro was promoted to the Kingsport Mets and due to back pain was limited to only 12 games.
“Unfortunately I had an injury that was in my abdomen which required surgery, but thanks to the Mets staff, who successfully rehabilitated me, now all is well,” said Perez.
With the rehab help, Pedro came back in 2013 with Kingsport and in 45 games batted .264, 21 runs, 5 doubles, triple, 3 home runs, 24 RBIs. Not bad for a young player that had to go through an injury early in his career and to be able to bounce back.
This season, Kingsport would win their division in the Appalachian League with a 40-27 record, which was also a major turnaround from their 23-43 fourth place finish in 2012. A good 2013 season cultivated with a Division Crown — just what the doctor ordered for Pedro. The Kingsport Mets did not make it out of the first round of their playoff series, but the year was a huge success for the organization and their fans.
I reached out to Pedro and asked him if I could interview him and he was very excited and willing, so without further ado, My Interview:
David – Is there anything about you that the Mets fans do not know, that you would like to share? Any hobbies or interests outside of baseball?
Pedro - I don’t know, I think Mets fans should know, I live with my parents and my three brothers and I graduated from high school when I was 15 years old.
David – What is your favorite food dish when you go home? Have you enjoyed any Colombian food in the United States?
Pedro - My favorite food is Cuban rice, which my mom prepares for me at home, and when in the states I visit some Colombian restaurants in Miami, plus I have a cousin who also has a Colombian restaurant in Miami.
David – While growing up in Colombia, where soccer is the favorite sport, who introduced you to the game of baseball?
Pedro - My father played amateur baseball, but not professional baseball. I always went to the stadium to watch him play and I liked it and it inspired me to play baseball.
David – You were signed by the Mets at 16 years old, where did you play baseball prior to playing in the Dominican Summer League?
Pedro - From 8 to 14 years old, I played on a team called Falcon in my hometown of Cartagena. When I was 15 years old I traveled to the city of Barranquilla to finish high school. And there I played a much more advanced level, where players were between 20 to 30 years old and I was only 15 years old and acquired a little maturity in the game.
David – Who was your favorite player growing up and did you model your game after him?
Pedro – Since I was a kid, Alex Rodriguez was my favorite player. I was a fan of the Yankees and always wanted to see Alex play to learn the game better.
David – Was it an easy transition for you to be able to adapt to living in the United States compared to living in Cartagena, Colombia? Was it a culture shock?
Pedro - At first it was not easy, because of the language, the food, but those are things that we adapt to gradually. In terms of culture, it was very different from what we are used in our country.
David – Do you sometimes get home sick and what do you miss the most? The food, your family, etc…
Pedro - I have not been homesick in America. I do miss the food from home, my family, but while I’m in America, I am just thinking about baseball, because I know when I get home there will be time to catch up.
David – Has it been easy for you to master the English language or do you still struggle with it sometimes?
Pedro – It has been a little easier because I learned much English in school and I practice with my teammates but I have still much to learn, but all of that is part of the process.
David – When you signed with the Mets, who was the first person you told?
Pedro - My mom and dad. My agent met with the scout and I was anxious to know what was going on and finally he gave me the good news.
David – How did your parents feel with you leaving home at such a young age to play professional baseball?
Pedro - My parents are very happy, they know that this is my dream and goal is to reach the big leagues.
David – Do you have any other siblings and did any of them play baseball as well?
Pedro - I have 3 brothers, twins that are 10 years old, Andres Camilo that is playing baseball and Camilo Andres, but does not like playing baseball. And my other brother, Luis Miguel, who is 16 years old and plays baseball too.
David – You have played both first base and third base, which of the two would you rather play, and which is your favorite?
Pedro - I prefer to play at third base, it’s my favorite. But playing at first base, I have more of a chance to be in the line-up. I have the ability to play well in the OF, which I have done at winter ball in Colombia.
David – Being that you are a switch hitter you give yourself more opportunities to play against both lefty and righty pitchers, which side of the plate do you feel is your strongest?
Pedro - I was a switch-hitter in the instructional league last year, then I met with the hitting coach and decided to bat right hand because I feel more comfortable.
David – Which part of your game do you think improved the most from 2012?
Pedro - My defense, I feel much more confident.
David – Do you feel that you are ready to make the jump to the Brooklyn Cyclones, and if not what do you need to work on to be able to move up?
Pedro - I work hard in all that I have to do, and focus on the process and the end results. When they decide to move me up to the next level, I will be ready.
David – Since you signed with the Mets at 16 years old, what have you done each off-season to get ready for the regular season? Do you have a regular workout routine or do you follow the Mets workout regimen?
Pedro - When I finish my season with the Mets, I prepare for winter league play and I continue the program from the organization so I am well prepared to come to spring training.
David – In your first season in the Dominican Summer League you stole 15 bases; do you feel that speed is a big part of your game?
Pedro - I’m not a fast runner but I have the ability to be able to steal bases.
David – Is there anything in your approach to the game that you feel you need to improve on?
Pedro - Yes, I feel I must work on my strike zone, to try to put the ball in play more and reduce strikeouts.
David – Is there a coach or manager that has helped you in your development and growth?
Pedro - Enrique Falcon who was my coach since I was 7 years old until I signed with the Mets. And after signing I’m training with Harold Herrera.
David – What did it feel like to be a part of the first Kingsport Mets team in 17 years to be Division Champs?
Pedro - I am very happy, it was a tremendous year; we had a lot of confidence playing and working hard to be the champions of the division.
David – What was it like to participate in the playoffs and also get a few hits?
Pedro – I was very happy, we wanted to be champions of the league, and I felt with some confidence that we would win. I had played before in the playoffs and finals at the winter league in Colombia.
David – How disappointing was it to get in the playoffs and not advance to the next round? What was it like in the clubhouse after the game?
Pedro - There was no disappointment, we wanted to enter the final series, but we were very happy because we gave 100% in every game.
David – Last season Kingsport was 23-43, what do you feel was the reason for the dramatic turnaround this season?
Pedro - This year we had many players repeating the league in Kingsport and were more confident and we did everything that we should do and we eventually saw the results.
David – Do you want to share anything with the Mets fans?
Pedro - I want to thank all the fans who have been watching me, I will continue giving my best, and continue to feel the support of all the fans.
Thank you to Pedro Perez for taking the time to answer my questions. Pedro’s native language is Spanish, but he answered all my questions in English. He did a great job and gave me and the fans a great insight into his world and his love for the game. Pedro is only 19, but growing in his development and I see a bright future for him. He loves the game and is doing the right things to be successful. I wish him well and will continue to follow his journey.