After receiving a daily dose of home cooking from manager Dusty Baker when he was with the Cubs, journeyman Neifi Perez got a taste of humble pie when he was shipped to Detroit at last year’s trade deadline, batting a paltry .200 in 21 games with the Tigers.
It appeared to be the end of the line for the doughy Dominican, who had ballooned to an estimated 290 pounds by the end of the season. However, an off-season diet and workout regimen overseen by fitness guru and Baker favorite Mack Newton helped a slimmed-down Perez secure an opening day roster spot with the Tigers, to the surprise of most around baseball with the exception of Baker.
Dude, I’d go to war with nine Neifi’s in my lineup every day if I could,” said Baker from the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn. where he now works as an analyst. “In fact, I’d have a roster of 14 Neifis, six Lenny Harrises, three Jose Maciases and two Freddie Bynums.”
Perez himself was surprised to hear that he would still be in the league come opening day.
“I guess Jimmy [Tigers manager Leyland] has been smoking something besides cigarettes this spring, but I’ll take it,” said Perez. “Dusty helped me learn to expect the unexpected–you can go zero for your last 72 or make four errors in a game and still be in the lineup the next day . and the next . and the next.”