After finishing fourth in the AL Central in 2010, the Cleveland Indians showcased an array of young talent in 2011, improving to an 80-82 record and a second-place finish under manager Manny Acta.
They had the best start in franchise history, going 21-9 through their first 30 games. Although a few key injuries and perhaps some inexperience deterred the team’s momentum midway through last season, the 2011 Cleveland Indians proved they have a young, talented core ready to compete in 2012 and beyond.
Indians closer and fan favorite Chris Perez was a pivotal part of the Indians' resurgence in 2011. Perez was the leader of a bullpen that was one of the best in all of baseball throughout the 2011 season. After playing his first full season as an MLB closer, Perez saved 36 games for the Tribe and was selected to his first All-Star team along with teammate Asdrubal Cabrera.
I recently caught up with the Tribe closer, and he was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.
JMJr.: Though the Indians came up short in 2011, can you describe how important last season was for the growth of the team?
Chris Perez: Well, coming into 2011, all the "experts" picked us to either finish last, or next-to-last. Honestly I didn't see us getting off to such a hot start, but we did, and then everyone really bought in.
Like you said, we fell a little short of the division title, but leading the division for half the year, and being in the race all year—playing in meaningful games where every part of the game is important—can only help us coming into this year.
Add to that the fact we were so young, I like to believe those younger players really saw what it takes to be successful and win at the MLB level.
JMJr.: Last season, you and the rest of the Indians' relief pitchers became known as "The Bullpen Mafia"—can you explain how that all started?
Chris Perez: I think it originally started by a comment from a Twitter follower to Justin Germano. I think three or four bullpen members were tweeting and re-tweeting each other, and someone said "You guys are like a Mafia on Twitter," and it kind of stuck.
We were also dealing out of the bullpen and it was a bullpen unity kind of thing.
JMJr.: @ChrisPerez54 has built a strong following on Twitter and last year you began to appear on a YouTube series titled ":60 with Pure Rage." Why has it been important to you to embrace social media?
Chris Perez: I really enjoy using Twitter, especially to connect to fans in a different way. I feel that by using social media, I can give fans a different side of me, one they probably don't see through baseball games or the usual run-of-the-mill interview. I really believe that social media isn't going anywhere, it's only going to get bigger and more mainstream.
I also like the control I have over my tweets, promoting my likes/interests and keeping up with friends and up-to-date info.
JMJr.: In 2011 you were selected to your first All-Star Game in Phoenix. I understand that you decided to give your All-Star ring to your father. Can you describe that experience?
Chris Perez: Yeah. The morning of the All-Star game there was a family brunch for the players and their families. Before entering the brunch, they handed out All-Star rings. When I picked mine up, they asked me to try it on. (I already had planned to give the ring to my Dad, so I had told them to make the ring five sizes too big for me.) My Dad was right next to me and noticed how big it was on me. I tried to play it off, but he kept making a deal about it. So finally I just walked away.
Flash forward to after the game, my family and I are relaxing back in the hotel, and I pulled out the ring and gave it to him. He was shocked/surprised/happy/speechless. I couldn't think of anyone else that deserved the ring more than him; he's the reason I love the game, and the reason I became an All-Star.
It was a small token of appreciation for all the hours and money spent on me playing ball growing up.
JMJr.: The fans in Cleveland have really embraced you and the gritty mentality you bring to the mound. What are your thoughts on the fanbase in Cleveland and what makes them special?
Chris Perez: The fanbase in Cleveland is very unique; they love their hometown teams and take great pride in their towns/city. I've never really experienced anything except encouragement and support from people I talk to or run across.
Cleveland is like any other city, they want their teams to win. But, unlike in some other cities, they appreciate hard work and understand that you can't win them all. That's the mentality I try to take out there to the mound: I'm going to give it my all every time out. I'll win more than I lose, and the ones I lose, I'm going down swinging.
JMJr.: You were once clocked at 99 mph in a game back in Triple-A. Who throws harder, Chris Perez or Kenny Powers?
Chris Perez: Lol...ME!!! I'm real. No, but for real, if you Google "Kenny Powers," my picture comes up, on like Page 2. I make a great reference to Kenny in my Twitter bio.
Sometimes I wish I could say/do some of the things Kenny gets away with.
JMJr.: Finally, the Indians front office made quite a splash when they acquired Ubaldo Jimenez before the trade deadline last year. What kind of message did that send to you and your teammates looking ahead to the 2012 season?
Chris Perez: That we were trying to win not only in 2011, but for the next few years. Coming into spring training, our rotation is set and Ubaldo is a huge part of that. He's a great teammate with incredible talent, and he's been there...the World Series.
It was exciting for the team/fanbase because we were trading FOR an All-Star, not trading away one. So I think it really signaled to everyone we're here, and we're going to go for this.