The Nationals used to employ tutors to teach newly arrived players from Latin America, like Perez, in the instructional and Gulf Coast leagues. But more than a year ago, they began using Rosetta Stone. Perez, who started those online courses two years ago, said they helped and he still does it weekly. He also said he is reading English now.
In Class AA Harrisburg last season, the Nationals built a daily schedule for Perez from the beginning of the day to the end. He was talented but, at times, he got too comfortable in his performance and loafed. He was once put ninth in the batting order in Potomac for not hustling. Perez took to the new routine and showed up to the field early. The same continued when he finally earned a call-up to Syracuse. He had to be the first one on and off the field every inning.
“He made a dramatic change,” said Doug Harris, the Nationals’ director of player development. “He made himself a player on the field that you couldn’t take your eyes off.”
It wasn’t until he reached Syracuse that Perez felt completely comfortable, with the language and on the field. “I was more confident,” he said. He stole 160 bases in 203 tries over the past three seasons.
In Syracuse, Manager Tony Beasley and director of communications Jason Benetti devised a plan to help Perez feel less sheepish about using his English in public. Before batting practice, they staged mock press conferences. Perez sat before a video camera and Benetti asked the questions. They then critiqued the footage with Perez. “You could see the progress from the first one on,” Beasley said.
In spring training, Nationals officials have been impressed with Perez’s English and development. He is destined to start the season in Syracuse but the team believes he still has a higher ceiling on the field.
In the clubhouse, Perez regularly fires off English at his teammates. “Wassup Mattheus!” he said to reliever Ryan Mattheus as he walked by. Beasley beamed recently one day during a game when Perez walked by him in the dugout and said, “Okay, Beas, I got you.”
Perez buys DVDs of American movies and devours them, and he likes religious-themed music in English. He still does the Rosetta Stone courses weekly.
Last September, while he was with the Nationals as a call-up, Perez’s mother made her first trip to Washington to see him play. She hopes to visit this season, too. She has always been proud of her only son, but she sat speechless in the stands when she saw him standing on the field before the game in his Nationals uniform.
“I couldn’t talk,” she said. “I was mute. I was so happy.”