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Filling Father’s Shoes : Eduardo Perez, Tony’s Son, Showing Promise Already in Short Time With Angels

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He is the son of a famous athlete, unable to recall a moment in his young life when he didn’t dream of following in his father’s footsteps.

He is bright, quick to smile and amazed to suddenly find himself sitting in a major league clubhouse after a meteoric rise through the minor leagues.

This is the story of Angel third baseman Eduardo Perez, the 23-year-old son of Cincinnati Red great Tony Perez, and it’s strikingly similar to the well-chronicled tale of J.T. Snow.

Comparisons are inevitable: Two sons of star athletes, two noteworthy major league debuts.

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Certainly, Perez’s first game as an Angel must have had the 22,761 on hand Tuesday night at Anaheim Stadium thinking they had seen this before.

In the eighth inning, he slammed an 0-and-1 pitch from Oakland reliever Kevin Campbell more than 400 feet for a three-run home run, becoming the 21st player in Angel history to homer in his first game with the club and the first since Snow, who homered on opening day.

In the second inning, Perez doubled down the right-field line for his first major league hit. “That ball is going home,” he said later. “It’s going overseas (to Puerto Rico).”

Perhaps the only ones more thrilled than Perez were his parents, who were watching the game via their satellite dish thousands of miles from Anaheim.

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Tony Perez, now in the Florida

Marlins’ front office, was thrilled enough after his son was called up Tuesday, but to watch him homer in his first game?

“My wife was screaming,” Perez said in a telephone interview from Miami. “He’s going to hit a lot of home runs. He’s big and strong. I told him, ‘You’re there to stay, but you have to work hard.’ I’m not worried about him. He’s a hard worker.”

For now, Eduardo is the Angels’ everyday third baseman, filling a void created by injuries to Kelly Gruber and Snow’s prolonged batting slump. He said he knows little of the details of Snow’s trials and tribulations at the plate, and doesn’t appear concerned that the last phenom is now at triple-A Vancouver.

He’s simply happy to have a chance to show he’s ready to be a big league player like his father. And he’s quick to point out that he’s just as happy for Ty Van Burkleo, who finally earned a major league promotion after 12 seasons in the minors and in Japan.

“I’m not one to guarantee stuff,” Perez said. “I just go out and play hard. Whatever happens happens.”

So far, the Angels couldn’t be more grateful for a jump-start after enduring a 10-game losing streak that took them out of contention in the American League West. Their fall, coupled with Snow’s lengthy hitting troubles, hastened Perez’s promotion from Vancouver.

Perez is batting .313 (five for 16) with one homer and three RBIs. He also faced Dennis Eckersley and fouled out to end Thursday’s game.

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Welcome to the big leagues, kid.

“I think he’s done very well, but he’s barely got his feet wet,” Angel Manager Buck Rodgers said. “He wasn’t intimidated by Eckersley. He got his rips.

“He’s made a lot of improvement the last two years. He’s grown in stature and his athletic ability has gotten a lot better. At this point, everybody associated with it said this is the time to bring him up.”

Perez was born in Cincinnati, but grew up in Santurce, Puerto Rico, where he attended Robinson High School. He played in the outfield for Florida State before the Angels made him their No. 1 pick in the 1991 draft.

The Angels kept him in the outfield initially, and he posted a .288 average in his first professional season at Class-A Boise. Last year, he hit .314 in 54 games at Class-A Palm Springs and .230 at double-A Midland, switching to first and third base.

In 96 games--including 77 at third--at Vancouver, Perez batted .306 with 12 homers, 70 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 28 attempts. He said adding 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame this past year has helped him develop so quickly. He is two inches taller and five pounds heavier than his father.

That’s not to say Perez’s game is flawless. His poor fielding was a big concern to the Angels this season, but they have been encouraged by recent his progress.

“He’s no Brooks Robinson at third base,” Rodgers said. “But his defensive play has gotten better and better. He’s only been at third base for a little over a year now. Whitey (Herzog, Angel senior vice president, player personnel) said it’s day and night from where he was a few months ago.”

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As if to underscore Rodgers’ final point, Perez made a nice running pickup of a chopper off the bat of Rickey Henderson in the sixth inning Tuesday, retiring the Oakland left fielder with a strong throw.

Perez is aware of his history of fielding deficiency. Questioned about his “21 errors” at Vancouver this season, he quickly corrected a reporter.

“Twenty-three, big guy,” he said, smiling. “They came very early for me. It was a rough start for me defensively. I had a sore shoulder. I wasn’t sharp. I felt comfortable, but my timing was off.”

Eddie Rodriguez, the Angels’ roving fielding instructor, spent hours hitting grounders at Perez, and that helped smooth the rough spots and ease the transition to third base.

“I saw it (the move) as a challenge,” Perez said. “It was something they believed I could do. As far as I was concerned, ‘Why not?’ They told me it never hurts to know another position. That’s important.”

Asked if his father offered him any words of advice, Eduardo shook his head and said: “Do the same stuff. Just go out and play.”

Father and son spoke briefly Monday night when Eduardo learned he was headed to Anaheim.

“He was overjoyed,” Eduardo said. “Just like any father would be for his son.”

Tony hoped to come to Anaheim Stadium for the Angels’ weekend series against the Twins, but his duties with the Marlins may keep him in Miami. His mother, Pituka, will be here for sure, however.

“It’s going to be a fun weekend,” Eduardo Perez said. “I’ve dreamed of this day for as long as I can remember.”


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