A 5-year-old at his 1st Tigers game gives Pérez's 1st HR ball back

April 30th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DETROIT -- It’d be hard for anyone to top the smile on Wenceel Pérez’s face as the Tigers outfielder rounded the bases Sunday after his first Major League home run -- except maybe for the young boy in the right-field seats who ended up with the ball.

While the Tigers celebrated their 4-1 win over the Royals to take their three-game weekend series at Comerica Park, Pérez was on the field, reaching down to shake hands with 5-year-old Enzo, who presented him with the ball that he hit out. Pérez posed for a photo with Enzo and his family.

“I gave a signed ball to him,” Pérez said, “and I said thanks for the ball. It was his first game, and my first homer.”

Not bad for Enzo’s first Tigers game.

“We set the bar pretty high for our first Tigers game with him,” his mom Diana told Bally Sports Detroit. “I don’t think it gets any higher than this. It’s very special to spend it with family and friends.”

Not bad for Pérez, either. The 24-year-old rookie, called up April 8 when Andy Ibáñez went on the injured list, continues to provide a spark, both with his offense and his enthusiasm.

“I’m trying to be patient, trying to play the game,” said Pérez, the Tigers’ No. 20 prospect per MLB Pipeline. “It was a dream that I had since I was a kid, so now that I’m here, I’m just trying to have fun here. That makes me feel confidence.”

It rubs off on his teammates. Mark Canha, who scored on the homer, waited for Pérez at home plate, where Pérez gave him a bear hug. Pérez was bounding through the line of teammates slapping hands before he proudly posed with the pizza spear that has become the team’s home run celebration.

“You love to see that,” Canha said. “You always want guys like that, who get fired up. I love it.”

To understand Pérez’s journey up the farm system makes it all the sweeter. Signed at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2016, Pérez didn’t advance to Double-A Erie until midway through the 2022 season. He not only needed time to figure out his offensive game; he needed health. He spent parts of four seasons at West Michigan, first as a Class A affiliate, then at High-A.

Just as Pérez seemed to be rising through the system, recurring back issues slowed him again.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that even after getting the call to the big leagues, Pérez had to practice patience. He picked up just three plate appearances over his first five games with Detroit, but when he finally got his first chance in the starting lineup in the second game of a doubleheader against the Twins on April 13, he picked up two hits, including a double.

He tripled in back-to-back starts at Minnesota a week later, barely missing a home run on one of them. He just missed again Saturday against the Royals, flying out to deep right and advancing a runner.

“I did a couple push-ups [Saturday] night,” he joked, “and I think it worked.”

Pérez has essentially hit his way into a role on a team that has been searching for offense most of the season. The more he hits, the more likely he is to keep a role when Ibáñez is ready to return from the injured list.

“Just look at the smile and the ease that he plays with -- fearless, joyful,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “He believes in himself. He’s just having fun. He’s unafraid to make a mistake, which puts him in a really good position to run the ball down.

“I mean, he’s just a fun guy to be around, and I think his personality is showing because he’s comfortable in his own skin. And he can really play. We’re asking a lot out of him, not only being in the big leagues but a switch-hitter in the middle of the order.”