Eury Perez, 22, walked through the Nationals clubhouse on Sunday morning and Manager Davey Johnson stopped to wish him well. “Good luck over there,” he said. Later, Ryan Mattheus, sitting at his locker when Perez walked by, shouted: “Go easy on Team USA.” Ross Detwiler, who will leave soon to join the U.S. team, offered Perez a hug.
Sunday was Perez’s last day in spring training before he departs to join the Dominican Republic’s WBC team, practice with them Monday and then head to Puerto Rico, where they play the first round. It’s a point of pride among the Latin ballplayers, especially baseball hungry countries like the Dominican and Venezuela, to play for their country.
“It’s great,” said Perez, standing at his locker. “I want to represent my country. … [My friends and family are] pretty proud. They don’t pick everyone in our country.”
Perez was a late addition when Melky Mesa, a New York Yankees outfielder withdrew to remain with his major league team. Perez said the Dominican team asked him a week ago if he was interested in playing, in anticipation of Mesa’s withdrawal. He asked the Nationals for permission and they approved.
“Great experience,” Johnson said. “I tried to get him as ready as I could,” he added, jokingly, because Perez has played in all eight of the Nationals spring training games already.
Perez will become the second Nationals position player to participate in the event, joining outfielder Roger Bernadina of the Netherlands. Starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Detwiler have accepted invitations to pitch for Team USA. Perez wanted to play for the Dominican team and prepared over the winter to play for them in case they asked.
“During the offseason, I worked on that and trained to be ready to play and play 162 games,” he said. “Physically, I feel I prepared for this just in case and it happened.”
Perez, who is in major league camp, enjoyed a career season in 2012 in the minor leagues, reaching as high as Class AAA Syracuse and earning a September call-up to the majors. The speedy outfielder, who can play all three positions, has stolen 160 bases the past three minor league seasons. He signed with the Nationals in 2007 out of the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican team will play its opening game of the first round in Puerto Rico on Thursday against Venezuela. The first round ends on March 10 and, if the Dominicans advance, they would play the second round at Marlins Park in Miami. That’s where the U.S. team would play if they also advanced.