Cleveland Indians fans have had, to say the least, a rough few years. The Tribe haven't been able to win more than 69 games the last two seasons and 2008 only saw a .500 winning percentage. Trades and injuries have changed the vibe in Cleveland from when they won the AL Central in 2007. But even with this fall from grace, Indians fans can look to a brighter future, starting with their closer, Chris Perez.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with TheFantasyFix.com. I know our readers would love to know a little bit more about yourself.
TFF: Did you play other sports growing up?
CP: I played soccer, basketball, football, volleyball and pretty much anything else that involved competing. When I was about 13, I concentrated solely on baseball.
TFF: While growing up, were there any professional baseball players you tried to emulate?
CP: Yes, Frank Thomas when he was with the Chicago White Sox. He was one of the most dangerous hitters during that period and his spring training was in nearby Sarasota, so I got to see him quite a bit. I was also a catcher most of my life and I really liked watching Pudge Rodriguez (he's still playing!) because he had the best arm I've ever seen.
TFF: Being a catcher must really help you understand the Pitcher/Catcher relationship.
TFF: What did you major in at "The U?" Ideally, what would you like to do after baseball?
CP: My major was criminology with a minor in anthropology. Ideally I wanted to be an FBI profiler. If you ever watched the TV show Criminal Minds, that is exactly what I wanted to do.
TFF: On a side note, as a former Hurricane, how do you feel about the Al Golden hire for the football team?
CP: I have a little mixed feelings with the Al Golden hire. On one hand, he won at Temple which is hard to do. On the other, he really doesn't have a very long coaching track record at the D-1 level. So I really hope he is the guy, because he's young enough to be there for a very long time. I guess I'm a optimistic pessimist.
TFF: Well being an optimistic pessimist is definitely the best kind.
TFF: Early in your career you represented Team USA Baseball. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
CP: I've had the enjoyable experience of playing for Team USA twice; once on their collegiate National Team in '05, and on the World Cup team in '07. Both experiences are something I'll remember for the rest of my life. Playing in the MLB is awesome and very special in it's own right, but to play for Team USA and have the Stars and Stripes across your chest…there's nothing like it. To be part of two select teams is pretty humbling. The time in '05 was really fun because everyone was in college and we got to travel to Japan and Taiwan. We were pretty much on vacation with a little baseball thrown in. The time in '07 was more business-like. We were a mixture of older and younger professionals, some with major league time, there to win the gold medal. We also went to Taiwan and participated in the IBAF World Cup of baseball. We ended up winning the whole tournament for the first time since the '70's.
TFF: What was it like being a first round pick? Did you have to deal with lots of pressures? People treating you differently? Asking you to borrow a few bucks?
CP: I have a really strong family and was fortunate that no one came to ask to borrow a few dollars. I don't think I personally had any more pressure on me because I was a high pick. There was more pressure on me because I was always the youngest player on my team. I also had pretty good seasons so I kind of let my play do the talking.
TFF: How did it feel getting traded so early in your career? Did you feel betrayed by the Cardinals or did you know that it was just part of the game?
CP: I knew it was part of the game, but I was totally shocked that I was traded because I was so young. When I first was told of the trade my initial reaction was happiness and excitement. But as the day went on I started to realize that I was leaving behind a great organization in terms of fan support and tradition, but more importantly I was leaving behind a lot of friends that I had made coming up through the minors. It was also a great feeling that a team thought so highly of me and I knew I would have a tremendous opportunity with Cleveland.
TFF: Which guys on the team have you become the closest with since coming over from St. Louis? Any noteworthy jokesters in the Indians clubhouse?
CP: I'm pretty close to the whole bullpen, we are a family within a family. We all have similar interests and likes and really pull for each other during the season. We have a couple of funny guys on the team, Shelley Duncan and Frank Herrmann come to mind.
TFF: Kerry Wood really gave you a roller coaster ride in 2010. It must have been hard having a veteran breathing down your neck. Tell us about that.
CP: It would have been a lot more stressful if Kerry wasn't such a good guy/teammate. Woody was great for all of us; we really looked up to him and tried to learn all we could from him. I told him a couple of times that I vividly remember the game when he struck out 20 Astros. I watched the entire game on WGN. So there was definitely respect there. I really didn't have a problem wondering when he was coming back, or if he was going to be traded. I concentrated on myself and pitching as best as I could so that if something did happen I would get first crack at the closers' role.
TFF: In your first full season in the AL you improved in virtually all possible statistical categories. What will you do differently in 2011 to continue improving and not let hitters get a read on you?
CP: I'm going to try and do the same things I did last year because I didn't trick anyone; I went out there and got ahead of hitters and made tough pitches when I needed to. I also had a little luck, which never hurts. The way I approach hitters, I pitch to my strengths and adjust to what they do. I throw a lot of fastballs and read how the hitter is adjusting to my speed/location to see if I need to throw a slider or change locations. If I go out there and hit every spot all season long, I will have a great season. That's the challenge of the game—you are challenging the hitter and your own self with trying to hit all of your spots.
TFF: How differently do you prepare now that you’re a closer, than when you were in middle relief? Different pitches, different mindset, etc?
CP: You probably won't believe me, but as the closer, hitters are a little more patient, except in one-run games. So I try and throw the first pitch of an appearance right down the middle to get ahead. Other than that I really try to pitch the same in any role…dominate, be aggressive and attack the hitter. Now when guys get on base, it's totally different trying to protect a lead as the closer vs middle relief. As the closer you sometimes have to navigate a lineup and pick out your best option to attack to protect a lead.
TFF: Have you embraced your nickname "Pure Rage"? It's kind of like the modern day "Wild Thing" for the Indians.
CP: I'm cool with it. I think if you asked anyone that is close to me, the nickname definitely doesn't fit me. Off the field, I'm pretty laid-back and easy going. On the field I'm more serious, quiet and focused. When I'm pitching that's really the only time I have "Pure Rage." I like to compete, but I love to win. Actually I hate to lose more. That's what keeps me coming back, to compete and win at the highest level.
TFF: Have you ever played Fantasy Baseball? If so, how did you do?
CP: I've played twice, once in high school and once in college. Honestly it took too much time to do, so I never really enjoyed it. I would always forget to change my pitchers, or someone I started would get a day off, so I would always lose. I appreciate it though, because it really does bring in more fans and helps keep fans close to the game.
TFF: Well, we and your fans appreciate that you appreciate us.
TFF: What are your goals for this season? How about some stats projections...
CP: My main goal is to stay healthy. If I'm healthy I know I will have a successful year. Stats-wise I can't really predict how many saves I'll have because it really isn't up to me. I'll try to predict my blown saves at 3—2 in the first half and 1 in the second half. I think I will also be able to get a few more strikeouts this year by making better two-strike pitches and by mixing in a few more change-ups.
TFF: We so figured you would say zero blown saves!
TFF: Other than Fausto Carmona, which Indians starter should we expect the most out of in 2011?
CP: I'm going to say with the four that are guarantee spots: Carlos Carrasco. He has the ability to throw four pitches for strikes and three of them are plus. He looked totally different last September than he did in '09. As a dark horse look out for Anthony Reyes. He's totally healthy now and has good velocity. He has a nice break to his slider and always has that change-up. I've played catch with him a few times and he looks/feels totally different.
Thanks again Chris. You were a great interview and we at The Fantasy Fix wish you good luck in 2011. One request—try to take it easy on our buddy Will Rhymes over in Detroit, other than that...strike em all out!
Written by Alan Harrison exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com.