EVERETT — Like many young baseball fanatics in South America, Robert Perez Jr. dreamed of one day playing in the United States.
Now that he’s stateside, he hasn’t wasted any time impressing people in the Seattle Mariners’ organization.
After a brief tour of duty to help fill out the Mariners’ Triple-A roster in Tacoma — where he performed above expectations for an 18-year-old — Perez whacked a two-run, opposite-field home run over the hand-operated scoreboard in right field at Funko Field, helping power the AquaSox to an 8-6 Northwest League victory over Salem-Keizer on Sunday.
In three games with the AquaSox, Perez boasts a .308 batting average and a .938 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). It followed Perez hitting .250 with a .773 OPS in Tacoma.
“When you have a really good idea of what you’re doing at the plate, you can have really good at-bats,” AquaSox manager Jose Moreno said of Perez. “Like anywhere, you have to control the zone and he was doing a really good job over there. Everything there is close, you don’t see a lot over the plate.”
The 6-foot-1 infielder was always supposed to be on Everett’s roster, but Tacoma was in need of bodies. Perez filled in as a reward for performing well in extended spring training. It’s not an uncommon practice — Everett infielder Cesar Izturis spent five games in Tacoma last season — but it was an opportunity Perez was excited about.
“I was really happy,” he said. “I called my dad and mom right away.”
A native of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, Perez grew up idolizing Alex Rodriguez. And just like A-Rod, Perez is starting his pro career in the Mariners organization. Seattle signed him as an international free agent in 2016.
Playing in the U.S. is something Perez has prepared himself for since he was a teenager growing up in Venezuela. And not just on the field. He is a capable, self-taught English speaker, who picked up the language by deliberately listening to music in English.
Perez doesn’t mess around in all facets of his life, including hitting.
It’s why he’s been able to thrive in a variety of situations in his young career.
“I think his mindset is aggressive, that’s one of the keys for him,” Moreno said. “He’s going to home plate to hit and that’s a plus. To me, hitting is about mindset and he’s that. He’s going to home plate to swing the bat, no matter what.”
In Sunday’s game, the Volcanoes jumped out in front in the top of the first, with Sean Roby lining an RBI single to right and Franklin Labour poking a run-scoring triple to down the right-field line to put Salem-Keizer up 2-0.
The AquaSox took the lead in the second. Miguel Perez registered an RBI groundout, Luis Joseph followed by thumping an RBI double to center field and Billy Cooke, making his Everett debut, flicked an RBI single to left to put Everett up 3-2.
The Volcanoes knotted the score on Yorlis Rodriguez’s RBI groundout in the third, but Everett quickly went ahead on a two-run single from Juan Camacho, and extended the lead to 6-3 on Luis Joseph’s RBI groundout.
Robert Perez Jr.’s two-run homer in the fourth made it 8-3.
George Bell drove an RBI double into the right-field corner and a throwing error brought another run in for the Volcanoes in the seventh, cutting the lead to three, and Simon Whiteman drove in a run with a single in the ninth to cut the difference to two, but that’s all Salem-Keizer could muster.
Starting pitcher Kelvin Nunez (1-0) picked up the win for Everett. The 19-year-old right-hander pitched the first five innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs. He struck out four.
After dropping the first two games, Everett has a chance to split the four-game series Monday. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
Everett catcher Carter Bins reached base in all five of his plate appearances, walking four times and getting hit by a pitch.