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For Perez, This Is the Game to Be Seen

June 26, 1987|BRAD JONES | Times Staff Writer

E-6 is a negative nickname for a shortstop, but Ernie Perez handles it just like a ball hit near the position--adroitly.

"I got the nickname one day at practice at the beginning of my junior season," Perez said. "I had a new glove and I was making errors with it in a practice game.

"So someone said, 'Why don't you write E-6 in the glove? If you finally start catching the ball it will wear out the E-6 and you will stop making errors.'

"The nickname stayed, but it didn't bother me and never has."

Why should it? Perez made only three errors for the 1987 Birmingham team that was 11-9 and lost in the first round of the City Section 4-A playoffs.

On Saturday, Perez will accept his biggest chance yet--to get a handle on his baseball future--at the 11th Bernie Milligan All-Star baseball game at Cal State Northridge.

"Playing in this game is the highest point in my career by far," said Perez, who will share the West team's shortstop duties with Canoga Park's Scott Strickland. "I finally got recognized for all my hard work."

There is an added bonus, too.

"It might bring out the scouts who never came out to watch me play and always went out to watch Danny Gil play," he said.

Danny Gil was a name that nearly haunted Perez. Gil was Poly's shortstop who hit two dramatic postseason home runs to help his team finish second in the City Section playoffs. Even though Perez has impressive credentials of his own--he twice was a Times' All-Valley selection and shared the Mid-Valley League most valuable player award this season--he thinks the scouts had eyes only for Gil.

"I was under-recognized this season," Perez said. "But no, I'm not bitter. It really doesn't bother me that much.

"I don't hate Gil or anything."

Gil has never met Perez but has heard enough about him to believe he received ample recognition this season.

"I don't know if I took anything away from him," Gil said. "But I don't think a player is under-recognized if he is named co-most valuable player of his league and named to the All-Valley team."

Gil, playing for the better team, won the battle of statistics between the two shortstops. The 5-11, 175-pound Poly shortstop batted .528 with 40 runs batted in; the 5-10, 170-pound Perez hit .441 with 29 RBIs.

Gil, who was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the June amateur daft, has accepted a four-year baseball scholarship at USC. Perez has not received an offer from a professional team or four-year college.

Wayne Sink, who coached Perez at Birmingham High and is co-coach of the West team, insists scouts have erred by overlooking Perez.

"I think Ernie should have been drafted," he said. "I haven't seen many guys in 23 years of coaching high school baseball who have as strong an arm as he does. He's the type of shortstop you can play back at the edge of the grass with a guy at third base because he can throw him out at the plate--and he has a couple of times this season.

"I bet you right now he has an arm that's probably an arm for a Triple-A player."

Although Perez was one of the league's best batters, Sink expects him to improve dramatically.

"Ernie has hit very well for average, but he is what I call a lazy hitter," he said. "Ernie has been able to get by on ability alone and that's typical for high school. They don't change until they go to college and have three guys at a position and have to develop and refine to really make it."

Becoming the apple of a professional scout's eye is Perez's No. 1 goal Saturday, with little chance of a scout from a four-year college making him an offer.

Why? Making the grade. Put Ernie Perez on a baseball field, it's no problem. Put him in a classroom, and it's a different game.

Although he graduated from Birmingham this year, Perez proved to be a much better student of baseball than of books. His struggles with schoolwork have cost him in the past: He was academically ineligible to play baseball as a sophomore.

"That was my biggest regret from high school," Perez said. "If I could go back and change one thing, that would be it."

Perez frequently left his scrupulous work habits on the baseball field when he entered the classroom.

"Frankly, I don't think Ernie prepared himself to go to a four-year school," Sink said. "He didn't take the ACT or SAT (college entrance tests) for college."

Perez knows he has limited college options and fewer explanations for his academic shortcomings.

"I don't know. I mostly just played baseball and that was it. I never really did anything else. I'm looking for the next available SAT now," he said.

Damon Buford, Perez's double-play partner at Birmingham who also joins him in the Milligan game, said Perez might have joined him at USC if his grades were better. Next fall, Buford will attend USC where his father, Don, a former major league player, is an assistant coach.

"He could have gone just about anywhere he wanted to if his grades were better," he said. "I had my dad talk to him a few times and he really didn't have the grades to go to USC."

For Perez, who will likely play for College of the Canyons, the all-star game is his main concern.

"This game means that I can match up with the rest of the star players from around the Valley," he said. "I'm not going to say I'm better than some of them or name names, but I think I can match up to them."

And people will have a chance to watch Perez and Gil play on the same field in the same game. Comparisons are likely to follow, Sink said.

"I think that when you get them all on the field like you do in this all-star game, the scouts will see that Ernie Perez can play in Danny Gil's shoes and vice-versa. I hope they both get to make 10 plays at shortstop," he said.

No matter how many chances the two have, only one E-6 is likely to be seen on the field--Ernie Perez.

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