Eduardo Perez Represents Pride of Puerto Rico as Manager
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Managers represent their organizations, teams, players and fans.
Try representing an entire island.
That's the challenge -- and pressure -- that faces Eduardo Perez, the son of baseball Hall of Famer Tony Pérez and current analyst for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight." Perez is currently moonlighting as manager for host Puerto Rico here in the Pan Am Qualifying Tournament.
"Yes, there is (pressure) but it's a fun pressure," Perez, 41, told FanHouse.
"You get criticized a lot by moves one makes, and a lot of people here are very traditional. But for Puerto Rico this is huge, it's awesome. It's a unique opportunity that I have (to) deal with professional players and, at the same time represent Puerto Rico, and be in touch with every aspect of professional baseball."
Perez's team, which features an interesting mix of prospects and veterans, was one of eight (out of 12 teams) that advanced into the second round of pool play in the tourney. That was a huge step, since the top seven teams earn a spot in the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. The top four teams advance to the medal rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Naturally, selecting team rosters for international competition can be a test under any circumstances.
Competing teams, including Team USA, work with Major League Baseball administrators and team personnel when selecting players affiliated with MLB. None of the players are on their organizations' 40-man rosters, though many boast big-league service time.
Perez, of course, has the island in his ear.
"When you try to get a roster of 24 players on an island rich in talent it is difficult, you are always gong to have a lot of people who are going to be against you, wondering if you selected the right guys or not," Perez admitted.
"You get criticized a lot by moves one makes and a lot of people are very traditional. They like going with the veteran players, players that they know. But there are a lot of upper coming players and that's the ones you have to gamble on. Everybody knows who the players are and they want those veteran players on the team.
"There's a lot of scrutiny with choosing the team.'
Puerto Rico's top prospects include 20-year-olds Angel Morales (outfielder/Twins), Julio Rodriguez, 20, (pitcher/Phillies), Luis Cruz (pitcher/Astros) and 21-year-old Neftali Soto (outfielder/Reds).
Morales hit .280 between at multiple levels of Single-A while stealing 29 bases; Rodriguez put up gaudy numbers between short-season, low Single-A, going 7-3 with a 1.89 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 90 innings; Cruz went 8-5 with a 3.61 ERA in low Single-A due in large part to a good feel for pitching and a strong changeup; and Soto hit 21 homers at high Single-A while batting .268.
On the flip side of the calendar, Ramon Vazquez (34 years old), Rabell Saul Rivera (33) and Armando Rios (31) all have major league experience.
"There are a lot of upper coming players and those are the ones you have to gamble on," Perez explained. "Yet, we also have to compliment that with older players, players who have been around, just in case the pressure does get to them.
"But we always feel talent can override all that."
Perez knows talent.
He was selected in the first round of the 1991 amateur draft out of Florida State by the Angels and represented Puerto Rico as a player in the World Baseball Classic in 2006. That also was the final season of his 13-year, major league career.
Perez made his managerial debut for Puerto Rico in last year's World Cup, finishing fourth. He also manages in the Puerto Rican Winter Baseball League and was named the league's manager of the year in 2008.
Perez understands what it takes to manage and select his team.
Even with the weight of an island on his shoulders.
"The U.S. does it (selection process) and you really don't see high criticism because it's really not the main focus -- not with the playoff and World Series (this time of year) -- and they trust whomever Bob Watson (USA Baseball general manager) and the rest of the USA Baseball decides to choose," Perez said.
"But us, on the other hand, we do things a little differently down here."