Even for Pérez, Opening Day 'never gets old'

April 1st, 2021

DETROIT -- For many on the Tribe’s roster, Thursday marked their first Opening Day in the big leagues. But lefty reliever wants to be there to help provide some guidance.

After making the Indians’ 26-man roster as a non-roster invitee in Spring Training, Perez suited up for his 16th Opening Day on Thursday in Detroit, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 39-year-old is preparing to embark on his 19th big league season, but he looks at each Opening Day like it’s his first.

“I say, first of all, it never gets old,” Pérez said. “I think Opening Day is really special. I feel like young guys. You have your first Opening Day, I feel that way because of all the work we do in the offseason and Spring Training and you make the roster, it’s pretty special. I think that’s why we have to enjoy it. But at the same time, we have to start on the right foot. We have to do our best to try to win the most games we can.”

Pérez’s first goal for the season is to remain a reliable weapon for the Tribe out of the bullpen. But his second priority is to be a mentor who the younger players can lean on. And, most important, he wants to continue to be a model that all players, including Mexican-born players, can look up to.

“I want, when I retire, to see Oliver Pérez like an example,” Pérez said. “That’s my goal. That’s why I have to do everything I can to help my teammates and teach the guys. I can learn from them because in this game, you have to learn something every single day. That’s why you can grow up and be a nice person and a really nice player. That’s very important to me.”

Every time Pérez is asked whether he thought when he was making his debut as a 20-year-old on June 16, 2002, that he’d still be pitching in the Majors in 2021, he immediately exclaims “No,” with a chuckle. But the more time he has to reflect over his decades as a professional player, he realizes that his unwavering passion is what he’s most proud of.

“I always tell everybody, ‘You have passion and you enjoy it every time. But at the same time, you have to work hard to get to this level,’” Pérez said. “I think if you respect your teammates and you do your work, you can have fun at the same time because at the end of the day, it’s baseball. It’s supposed to be fun. That’s very important to do everything you can and just enjoy it.”

Pérez and will bring a veteran presence to a very inexperienced bullpen. But it’s a relief corps that has a lot of potential, especially with young arms and , who topped out at 102 mph in Spring Training.

“It doesn’t matter if you have one day in the big leagues or 20 years in the big leagues,” Pérez said. “I think we’re the same. That’s why we’re really strong in the bullpen. Our goal this year is to try to be the No. 1 bullpen in the league. The last couple years, I think we have been in the Top 5 in the bullpen in all of baseball. So our goal this is to try to be No. 1.”

Alternate site roster
The Indians officially released their alternate site roster on Thursday. During the first month of the regular season, those selected to go to the alternate site will continue working out in Columbus, Ohio, (with the hope of scheduling exhibition games) until the Triple-A season gets underway. This way, the big league club has a handful of players nearby in case it would need to make any additions to the roster.

Luplow at the top
Cleveland had been rotating center fielders and at the top of the lineup over the final days of Spring Training, and it looks like that will remain the plan for the beginning of the regular season.

“[Luplow is] one of our better hitters against left-handed pitching,” manager Terry Francona said, “and if we want to pinch-hit Gamel or somebody we certainly can later, and that's where they would go anyway, in that one hole. So, it just seems to make sense.”