Catching up with former Phils utilityman Perez

Catching up with former Phils utilityman Perez

The statistics in baseball's official record books will show that utilityman Tomas Perez spent six seasons with the Phillies and that he batted .249 in 504 games. A little deeper look will reveal that he played all four infield positions, went to right field when needed and even pitched once.

What the numbers won't show is how, from the time he was a largely overlooked free-agent signing before the 2000 season to the moment he was released at the end of Spring Training in 2006, Perez developed into a fan favorite. Not so much because of what Perez did on the field, but because of his effervescent personality.

Asked about his best memory from his time with the Phillies, Perez grinned.

"Shaving cream pies," he said with a laugh. "Nobody forgets that. That's why people remember me, so that's the best part."

Yes, Tomas Perez was the Phillies' official Pieman. When the team won, he would load up a towel with shaving cream. When the time was right, he'd pop out of the dugout and rub it into the face of his unsuspecting victim as he was being interviewed on the field.

Well, that's not entirely true. Before long, the player who was on TV for the Star of the Game show knew what was coming. Getting pied by Perez after a big offensive night or a stellar pitching performance almost became a badge of honor. It usually ended the conversation, although, at times, the player would gamely continue after wiping the cream out of his eyes and mouth. Which made it even more hilarious.

When Perez visited Bright House Field this spring, his former teammates greeted him with hugs and smiles.

"They all told me they miss the funny guy," he said with a smile.

Perez, now 40, lives in Orlando, Fla. He moved from Venezuela to escape the political unrest that has beset his native country.

"I'm trying to get back into baseball," he said. "We'll see what comes up. Right now I'm trying to be the best dad in the world [to daughters Paola, 11, and Alejandra, 8] and the best husband [to wife Andrea] I can be."

Perez also played for the Blue Jays, Rays and Astros in the big leagues, but he made his mark in Philadelphia.

"It was one of the best times of my life, of my career," he said. "The Phillies gave me an opportunity. And the great fans. That's why I say the Phillies are always in my heart."

Perez didn't stick around that long just because of his fun-loving nature, of course. He spent most of his first season with the Phillies in the Minors, but he made 39 starts after being called up in August. In 2001, he batted a career-high .304 and became the second Phillies player (after Steve Jeltz) to homer from both sides of the plate in a game when he did it on July 24 against Montreal. In 2002, Perez had a game-winning homer in the 11th inning at Cincinnati.

By then, Perez was being used all over the field. And in a blowout loss to the Astros on May 13, he became the first Phillies position player in 15 years to pitch. Jeff Bagwell reached on an error and then he got Jason Lane to fly out to right to end the inning.

"That was a good time," Perez recalled. "In Venezuela I pitched in a lot of games, but never in the big leagues. It was fun to face good hitters."

In 2003, Perez hit his first career grand slam at Atlanta. In 2004, he belted his first career walk-off homer, also against the Braves. In 2005, he led the team with 43 pinch-hit at-bats, including a game-winning, ninth-inning single against the Rockies.

No matter what, Perez will always be remembered for ambushing teammates. He wasn't the first to do it, but it quickly became his calling card.

"It started with Jimmy [Rollins] and Bobby [Abreu]," he said. "They won a couple games, so I tried to do something different. I said, 'We'll try this and see what happens.' I did it and then a lot of people started doing it all over Major League Baseball. Everybody says, 'Tomas Perez started this.'"

"That's a good thing to be remembered for."

The Perez file

Tomas Orlando Perez
Born on Dec. 29, 1973, in Barquisimeto, Venezuela ... Originally signed by the Montreal Expos as an amateur free agent on July 11, 1991 ... Signed by the Phillies as a Minor League free agent on Dec. 15, 1999.

Major League career
Played for the Toronto Blue Jays (1995-98), Phillies (2000-05), Tampa Bay Rays (2006) and Houston Astros (2008) ... Batted .240 with 96 doubles, 24 home runs and 180 RBIs over 789 career games.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.