Baseball Opens Doors for Perez

by David Villavicencio

No. 20 Miami (12-8, 7-7 ACC) at FIU (9-12, 1-3 C-USA)
Roster | Schedule

March 31, 2021 | 7:00 p.m.
FIU Baseball Stadium | Miami, Fla.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Carlos Perez still can’t believe he is a catcher at the University of Miami.

Truth be told, Perez can’t believe he is a catcher anywhere because he always thought he would be a shortstop dating back to his youth in La Lisa, one of the 15 municipalities in La Habana, Cuba.

“It’s crazy to think I’m here today as a catcher when I used to hate it when I was little,” Perez said. “Like how did I manage to end up here as a Hurricane at catcher when I was about to quit baseball because they put me at catcher? I feel like the more you do something, the more you’re going to end up liking it and you’re going to end up getting better and staying there just because you’re doing it so many times for so many days. For me, playing catcher just stuck.”

Perez ended up at catcher out of necessity. He was a gifted young shortstop and played the position from ages 4 to 8. Then his team’s catcher got hurt and they needed someone to fill in. Perez’s coach informed his father, Guaracy, that the team needed Carlos to catch and that was his first taste of the position.

“At first I was in shock because I didn’t know if I wanted to do that but I went back there and I don’t even remember how it went. All I remember is on the way home, I was like, “If I’m going to catch again, I will not play baseball ever in my life.’

“We went back the next day and I went to shortstop. Five minutes before practice started, they were like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to go catch.’ I went to catch and I was mad,” Perez added. “In the middle of practice, I got hurt like a ball hit me or something and it hurt so bad that I was like, ‘I’m going home. I’m not coming here again.’ And the coach was like, ‘Okay, you’re going home but you’re going home with your gear on.’ So, I had to walk all the way to my house with the gear on, covered in mud and everything. Then, the day after, I started liking it a little bit and then the next day I liked it and I’ve been there ever since. I haven’t touched the infield in years.”

Two years later, Perez’s baseball career went through an even bigger change. Now 10 years old, Perez, his father Guaracy, and his mother, Yamilka Borges, left Cuba and came to Miami. The family chose to start over in a new country in search of better opportunities, but it was not easy for the Perezes, especially when they first got to the United States.

“I lived in Cuba for a portion of my life. I was there for 10 years,” Perez said. “It was completely different for me when we got here but I understood what my parents did. They wanted to move forward and wanted a better opportunity for me, a better future. We came here and it was really hard at first. I didn’t know any of the language. I was only speaking Spanish and school, everything really, was pretty hard for me. I managed to learn a little bit and got used to it after a couple years but it was a tough time when I first got here.”

The young Perez turned to baseball as an outlet and a sense of normalcy while adjusting to life in a new country.

“Baseball helped a lot because there were days where I’d go to school and not talk at all,” Perez said. “That was hard on me a kid, but then I’d go to practice and I’d forget about everything. Baseball saved me from going crazy like that because it was really hard to go a whole day not saying a word. Thankfully I’d go to the field and just forget about all of that, so it was really helpful.”

As he grew up in Miami, Perez blossomed as a youth player and got the attention of the Miami Hurricanes. Before he even enrolled in high school, Perez received word through his travel ball coach that the Canes were looking at him.

“I really didn’t know much about college but I knew about the University of Miami,” Perez said. “I didn’t really know about any other schools back then. I always talked to my parents about going here. I never wanted to leave Miami and I always wanted to wear the green and orange. I fell in love with the school. I was playing travel ball before I got into high school and my dad got a call from my travel team coach saying that Miami was interested in me and that’s where it all started.”

Perez went on to star at Florida Christian in Miami, earning Miami Herald All-Dade First Team honors in 2019. As an elite defender who also hit .327 with 16 doubles, three triples, four homers and 50 RBI in four-year varsity career, Perez blossomed into a coveted prospect. However, he always knew he wanted to be a Hurricane and that was solidified when he visited Miami for the first time as a recruit.

“It was amazing. I used to go to games when I was little and I just loved the atmosphere and I wasn’t even on the field,” Perez said. “When I did my tour around school, I fell in love with it. In high school, I played a couple games and it felt great to get a chance to play here back then. But I remember the first time I got on the field for practice; it was a crazy feeling to know I was a Hurricane. I remembered being up in the stands watching games and now I have the opportunity to be on the field with the team that I used to come watch as a little kid. It was awesome.”

Miami recruiting coordinator Norberto Lopez knew Perez was a big-time prospect at a young age and was excited to add a player that was ranked No. 137 in Baseball America’s 2020 MLB Draft prospect rankings.

“He has such a high ceiling and he hasn’t even reached his full potential. There’s so much more in there,” Lopez said. “It comes naturally to him. He’s like a born catcher. He’s a guy that was made to catch. Everything comes simply to him, the blocking, the receiving and he has some of the best hands I’ve ever seen on a catcher. He’s really good with his hands and he has a strong arm, and he’s flexible, so he has all the tools that you need to be a plus defensive catcher.”

Perez and Lopez forged a great relationship during the recruiting process and the duo has strengthened it significantly since the catcher arrived on campus in August. With Lopez serving as Miami’s hitting coach and catching coach, he spends a lot of time working closely with Perez and that has been beneficial in the rookie’s first season with the Canes.

“Lopes is a great coach,” Perez said. “I respect that guy as a coach and as a person. I’ve known him for a while and he recruited me when I was back in high school. First, I only knew him as a recruiter and not as a coach. So, I was looking forward to start learning from him at Miami and it’s been great from a catching point of view to hitting. He’s a great coach and a great guy.”

A former infielder turned catcher, Perez worked hard to learn his new position and develop as a backstop. But he still uses some of his shortstop roots to work on his game behind the plate.

“I miss taking groundballs, but I still get to do it sometimes even as a catcher,” Perez said. “In high school, every day before a game I used to take groundballs at second base because I felt like it helped me doing the transition to throw to second from the catching spot.”

In addition to drill work, he studies film of catchers like Yasmani Grandal, Yadier Molina, Pudge Rodriguez and Benito Santiago to learn from some of the best players to play the position.

“I believe I got better just by training every day, just doing stuff and repeating everything every day. Even just the basics, it doesn’t have to be anything crazy, just repeating the basics every day helps you get a lot better. I also watch a lot of videos of guys that are in the big leagues and trying to learn from them. The best catchers in the major leagues obviously know what to do to play the best, so I try to watch them and see different drills that they do. All those guys were where I am at one point and now they’re the best, so learning from them is very helpful.”

Grandal is one player that Perez has taken a lot from. In addition to learning from the former Hurricane great’s highlight tapes, Perez has built a relationship with the two-time MLB All-Star

“I met Yaz a couple years ago and he is definitely my role model,” Perez said. “He’s just such a hard worker and a guy that everything he ever said he was going to do, he’s accomplished it over the years. It was just an honor for me to have met the guy and now he’s like my big brother. He’s just such a great example, not only for me, but for a lot of other young kids that look up to him and get the opportunity to watch him play every day. For me, he is the best right now.”

The two crossed paths while Perez was in high school and formed a bond that has grown stronger over time.

“My dad kind of like knows his dad and we traveled to Arizona and he was over there for spring training, so that’s where we met him,” Perez said. “We took pictures and he was really great to us. I got his number and we talk every now and then. It’s a blessing to have a guy like that to guide me. Whenever something happens and whenever I have a question, I just shoot him a text and he’s been very helpful over the years.”

CORAL GABLES, FL - MARCH 12: Miami catcher Carlos Perez (61) gets his first hit as a Hurricane during a college baseball game between Wake Forest University and the University of Miami Hurricanes on March 12, 2021 at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, Coral Gables, Florida. Miami defeated Wake Forest 10-0.

Like Grandal, Perez hopes to follow a similar path to stardom at The U and in the big leagues. A longtime Hurricanes fan, he will never forget his first opportunities in orange and green.

“When we were at NC State, I was in the bullpen and they sent [Jared Thomas] over to the bullpen and they called on the walkie-talkie and said, ‘We need Carlos down here.’ So, I ran to the dugout and they said, ‘Get ready. You’re going to come in and hit,’’ Perez said. “I was hyped up because it was going to be my first at-bat as a Hurricane, my first college at-bat. I was so pumped up while I was getting ready in the on-deck circle and I remember going up to the plate and I had butterflies in my stomach a little bit. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is really happening.’ And I got up there and took my practice swings, stepped in the box and the first pitch hit me. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Man, I can’t believe I got hit in my first at-bat.’”

While his first taste of college baseball was a bit different than most, Perez will never forget his first hit as a Cane. On March 12, the rookie came up as a pinch hitter against Wake Forest and smacked a single to right-center.

“If you look back at the video, I don’t think I showed much emotion because I was so in shock that I didn’t know what to do,” Perez said. “I was so happy and hyped up that I had no idea what to do. But then people started calling me from the dugout and I started pointing at them. I didn’t even know what I was doing because I was so happy.”

But one of the best memories Perez has had so far at Miami came on March 9. The first-year catcher arrived at Alex Rodriguez Park ahead of a game against FAU and saw something he had yet to experience in his Hurricanes’ career.

“I don’t want to say it was in shock but when I read my name on the lineup card, it was a crazy feeling,” Perez said. “The first thing I remember doing was I went up to the clubhouse really fast and I just called my parents and I was like, ‘Mom, Dad, this is happening right now like I’m starting today.’ And I remember at the beginning of the game things felt different. Like on the weekend I usually do my stuff with Lopes and then I get the pitcher ready for the game and I go to the dugout and watch the game and stay ready in case they need me to play. But that day I remember doing the same things and it just felt different because I wasn’t going to sit and watch. I had to get ready to play because I was starting. Even during the game, when that first inning came around, I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m on the field right now playing college baseball. This is really crazy.'”

Perez has started two games in his career and might see his name in the lineup again on Wednesday, as Miami travels to FIU for a midweek meeting at 7 p.m., against the Panthers. While his career is just beginning, Lopez believes Perez has the potential to be like his idols.

“I can see him being one of the better catchers in the country,” Lopez said. “With how high his ceiling is and all the ability he has, combined with his work ethic because he’s really getting after it and buying into everything that we’re working on, there’s no reason why shouldn’t become that. I think this summer is going to be big for him. We are excited about him going out there and competing against really good competition and I think we’re going to see a different guy when he comes back.”