When Indians All-Star Chris Perez was growing up, he dreamed of being the next Frank Thomas.
“All I wanted to do was be a hitter,” Perez says. “I’d watch Frank Thomas swing the bat and I wanted to be like him.”
Perez even took virtual swings in Thomas’ “Big Hurt Baseball” just to get the feel of what it was like to smash the ball the way his White Sox idol did.
And although Perez eventually realized his dream of playing in the majors, he’s now every slugger’s worst nightmare -- a fireball-throwing closer -- and the latest in the "Fear the Beard" club that seems to be growing in bullpens across the nation.
“The only reason I ever pitched is because the coaches made me,” he explains. “Obviously it worked out. I wouldn’t be here at the All-Star Game if I was still a hitter. Luckily I just have a good arm, because everything that I have, I do what I do because I pitch.”
I show Perez his character in the game “MLB 12: The Show,” and all the pitcher can do is laugh. “I approve of the beard,” he says, even though it’s not as scraggly in the game as it appears in real life. “If they didn’t have the beard in the game, they’d be missing out.”
Perez was in Kansas City the day before the All-Star Game, walking through Sony’s PlayStation booth at Fanfest, playing a few games of “The Show,” and even taking on Orioles slugger Adam Jones at a Home Run Derby using the game’s motion-sensitive Move controllers.
“I’m actually a huge gamer,” Perez says, adding that he brings his PlayStation 3 on road trips throughout the season to keep up with his “Madden” franchise. “I always play as the Ravens. Ray Rice is a beast in that game. Then you have the Hit Stick with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs. That’s a team that’s tough to beat.”
But the PS3 isn’t Perez’s first foray into gaming; he’s been busting his thumbs since the early days of Nintendo.
“I remember making my dad camp out for the Nintendo 64,” he says with a laugh. “I wasn’t alive for Atari, but I owned the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox and PlayStation 3. That’s a lot of systems, now that I think about it.”
A lot of systems also means playing a lot of different baseball games throughout the years, but Perez still prefers the arcade action of Midway’s “MLB Slugfest.”
“That game is just fun, the way it lets you do stuff you just can’t get away with in real life,” he says. “It’s like ‘NBA Jam’ for baseball. Besides, any time you can knee someone at second base, you gotta love it.
“No matter what baseball game I’m playing, I just love that it’s so much easier to pitch in the video game than in real life. As long as you hit the meter right, you can throw a nasty pitch. I just wish I had one of those meters to master in real life.”
As for the best way to pitch as Perez in “MLB 12: The Show”?
“Stick with the fastball,” he says. “That’s my pitch. Every outing is different, but whenever I’m in a sticky situation, I stay with the heat. I live and die with my fastball, so hopefully you can do the same thing in the game. I throw about 85 percent fastballs, and it’s worked for me so far.”