A drunk-driving accident last year led to Miami pitcher Chris Perez being arrested and suspended from the baseball team, leaving him despondent.
However, the accident refocused his life and helped turn Perez into a dominant closer in college baseball.
“I went to the bullpen and told [Head Coach Jim] Morris, ‘I will do whatever you need me to do,'” Perez said.
Perez soon took over for then-injured Danny Gil as the closer for Miami. The month of sitting on the bench burned the desire to get back on the field.
“It was hard being here everyday and not being able to play and help my team,” Perez said.
Morris has a history of punishing players that break team rules. Perez said it is his fairness to individuals that is respected among the team.
“He understands that we are young 18-, 19-year-old kids living away from home for the first time,” Perez said. “He looks at the person and asks, ‘Is he a good student? Does he go to all the workouts?'”
Perez had to pay for his actions, but was given a second chance by Morris. He finished the year 5-1 with a 2.56 ERA. His seven saves led the team, and all were recorded in the second half of the season.
In the summer, Perez was selected to the U.S. National Team, where he was joined by teammate Jon Jay. Perez finished the competition 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA and two saves in seven appearances.
“It was a really good experience for a summer,” Perez said. “It is fun to build relationships with people that might be Major League stars one day.”
Perez said he is not worried about how he is used once he is drafted.
“I think I am a better asset out of the bullpen, but I will do whatever that team wants me to do to help the team win,” Perez said.
Perez now focuses on helping his team get back to the College World Series. He said his track record as a starter helps provide flexibility in how the bullpen is used.
“Coach knows I can go two innings on Friday and come back to throw two innings on Sunday,” Perez said. “I think it really helps Coach Morris out a lot.”
It is this mindset that helps Perez continue the tradition of being a closer at Miami, a distinction that he holds dear.
“There has been a great history of closers here at Miami,” Perez said. “Being able to fit into that role and keep the tradition going is what drives me.”
Denis Brown can be contacted at email@example.com.