Beltran, Sox scout Perez take different paths to Series
Little League teammates in Puerto Rico share special moment in Fall Classic opener
ST. LOUIS -- The moment was not lost on Carlos Beltran.
It was a few minutes before the start of the bottom of the second inning in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, and the outfielder stared into the sea of people standing in center field's Section 35 as he jogged to his position in right field.
Public-address announcer Henry Mahegan, the voice of Fenway Park, was recognizing the team's scouts, player-development staff and Minor League coaches in between innings, and Beltran knew his childhood friend Edgar Perez was among those being applauded by the 38,000 fans.
Then, it happened.
"Carlos is looking up at us. I get to the side where he can see me, and he just gives me a wave and a nod," said Perez, who has been a scout for 16 years. "It was a special moment. Here we are, two kids from little Manati, Puerto Rico, and we're at the World Series together at the same time. I'll never forget it."
Beltran and Perez grew up no more than a mile apart in the small Puerto Rican municipality on the island's northern coast. For nearly a decade, they were teammates for Barrio Boquillas' Little League teams. Their positions have changed over the years -- Beltran was once a shortstop and Perez was the team's catcher -- and they have taken different paths to get to the World Series. Baseball, they agree, reigns in Puerto Rico, but there's more than one way to make it to the big leagues.
"We were two young boys that had a dream to make it to the big leagues one day, and we did it," Beltran said. "He made it as a scout and I made it as a player. I hope kids see us and see that you can be a player, a scout, front-office [staff] or use other avenues in this sport. Baseball can change your life."
About 45,000 people live in Manati, and the city's ties to Major League Baseball run deep. Former Major Leaguers Tony Valentin and his brother Javier Valentin are among the most famous players from the city. San Diego's Raymond Fuentes, who was signed by Perez with the Red Sox, is among the most recent prospects. Numerous Minor Leaguers also hail from the area.
Like Beltran and Perez, they all started out in the local Little League.
"Carlos was not very big from ages 7-12, and he was always one of the smallest guys, but he was always very athletic," Perez recalled from Fenway Park. "Honestly, he was not the best player at that age, but he grew into his body around 16 or 17 and just took off to become a great player. Now look at him."
Beltran was selected by the Royals in the second round of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft, and he is a few years away from wrapping up a career that one day could land him in the Hall of Fame. Perez, who graduated high school one year before Beltran, went on to play for two years at West Valley College in Northern California before joining Cleveland as a scout.
Perez spent eight years with the Indians and then joined the Red Sox, primarily scouting Puerto Rico, starting in 2007.
"We both represent our culture, our town where we are from, and we are very proud of that," Beltran said. "You can make your dreams come true in this sport. That's something I want the kids to know. That's something I tell the kids at my academy."
The Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy officially opened on Aug. 24, 2011, but it had been the outfielder's dream for years. Located on 20 acres near Puerto Rico's Highway 22 -- and just off Avenida Heriberto Gonzalez Velez in the municipality of Florida -- the academy's goal is to provide a place for young players grades 10-12 to develop their baseball skills and achieve academic excellence. The academy's first class graduated this summer and two players -- including Joseph Monge, who was signed by Perez for the Red Sox -- were selected in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Overall, 19 players with ties to Puerto Rico, including six players from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, were picked in the last Draft. In 2012, Houston's Carlos Correa made history as the first Puerto Rican player selected with the first overall pick.
This season's Opening Day rosters featured 13 Puerto Ricans.
"There are a lot of good Puerto Rican players who had good seasons in the Minor Leagues and have good projections for the future," said Perez, who volunteers at the academy. "I believe in the next four of five years, the numbers will be a lot better. And I think the Beltran Academy and staff will have a lot to do with that, because he is pushing hard to develop guys. You see Carlos on the field now, but once the season is over, he is at work every day trying to get kids to the next level and showing them they can have a career in baseball."
Baseball fans on the island can look no further than the World Series to see the opportunities baseball can offer. In addition to Beltran and Perez, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and third-base coach Jose Oquendo are from Puerto Rico. Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez are also from the island. Victor Rodriguez Jr. is an international scout for Boston in the Dominican Republic.
"Really, it's good for Puerto Rico if either team wins," Molina said. "It's important that people at home can see all of the players and coaches here and know it's possible to do that. We have really talented players and baseball people there. We just need some help finding them."
There is no denying that there is still work to be done on the island. But in the meantime, there are more World Series games to be played.
"I wouldn't believe it if you would have told me 20 years ago that Carlos and I would be in this position right now," Perez said. "We have worked really hard for this moment, and the Cardinals have worked really hard for this moment. We all want to win. I just hope it's us. Sorry, Carlos."