"That night I went home, I didn't think about it. Every time you give an interview, just like now, it's up to the interviewer to paint the picture and atmosphere and mood. And sometimes you can take two or three words from a five-minute interview and make a headline out of it."
It was odd timing, but just a sliver of what was to come.
Chris Perez had just finished off his 13th save of the young 2012 Indians season in a 2-0 win against the Miami Marlins at home. 29,799 fans filled The Jake that May Saturday -- the most since Opening Day -- and the Tribe pushed its record to 23-17, first in the AL Central, 3.5 games up on the Chicago White Sox.
But desoite the healthy weekend crowd, the Indians still ranked last in attendance at that point, and by the conclusion of the season would top only baseball-apathetic Tampa Bay in that department. And despite the hot start, the team would finish 68-94, 20 games behind the eventual World Series runner-up Detroit Tigers.
For his part, Perez would get his second All-Star nod along the way to a career-high 39 saves, good for sixth most in MLB. And along the way, the Tribe closer would have plenty to say about just about everything, and it started that Saturday in May when he talked to reporters after the victory.
"I'm tired of getting booed at home, so I figured I'd throw some strikes today. You can quote that. It doesn't bother me. It (ticks) me off. I don't think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can't even give up a baserunner without people booing me. It's even worse when there's only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It (ticks) me off.
"I'm not calling out the fans. It's just how it is. That stuff is reserved for road games. We don't want to deal with that crap. You see their true colors.
"Guys don't want to come over here and people wonder why. Why doesn't Carlos Beltran want to come over here? Well, because of that. That's part of it. It doesn't go unnoticed — trust us. That's definitely a huge reason. Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the weather (stinks), but people see that. Other players know that."
Perez wasn't saying anything that anyone else wasn't thinking, but take a swipe at the fans who spend their ever diminishing discretionary dollars to come watch you play and you're bound to ruffle some feathers. To no one's surprise but Perez, a few folks took notice, including his bosses and teammates.
"That first night, nothing from the front office. Nothing from the agent," Perez tells Scene from spring training in Arizona. "The next day, I get to the ballpark early and as soon as I walk in, everyone's smiling. Look at the sports section. That was kind of tough when reading it. I had to meet with Shapiro and Antonetti. They said, 'We have to make a public announcement,' and they told me I had to make a public announcement. There was no punishment, though. No censure. They just said to tell them first if I really felt that way."
The comments left a sizable portion of the fanbase calling for Perez to be traded, to apologize, to sympathize with Joe Fan who can't afford to go to a game.
Which is all funny considering that Perez is exactly the brand of athlete fans want -- open, direct, honest, talkative, wary of cliches and baseball-speak. It's the same reason he's a reporter's dream. And as the mouth runs and opinions spew, especially in a season heading toward the tank, fans don't want to hear about taking it one game at a time and... shit, it's boring to even type the words that come out of players' maws.
"With the fans, it's a double-edged sword," says Perez. "You go through public media training. You hear the same public relations answers day after day -- it's boring. And sometimes it's not truthful, it's not truthful. It might be the right thing to say, but... Every year in spring training, every team is ready to compete. 'We're in this.' 'This is our year.' Or whatever. Then you get into the season and you start making excuses and you start saying stuff that's not true. I try to give insight. Here's why we're not winning. Here's what we can do better."
If the Tribe slumps to start 2013, if the turnstiles don't spin until The Jake is filled to capacity to watch a rejuvenated and rebuilt Indians roster struggle, you have Chris Perez's permission to stay home. Just so you know. He's not against you, he just likes winning and thinks you might, too. And losing, man that blows.
"When I called out the fans, we we're in first place," he says. "Winning should bring out the fans. We spent a lot of money this year, have a new manager, younger guys have another year under their belt. I expect the fans to show up and support us. But if we're losing, I completely understand. I don't expect fans to show up. I don't want to show up."
I don't want to show up.
Six words. Not a headline.
"I think every player, when there's chatter about, ya know... The last year and a half, every deadline or offseason, my name is linked to rumors. You play the 'What if?' game."
Chris Perez is very candid in saying last year was the lowest point in his professional career.
And as the season spiraled, the Tribe was rumored to be doing exactly what it had been doing in recent memory: trading assets and their few serviceable players for future prospects, dumping contracts, etc.
And as one of the few players on the roster that would draw interest from any other team, Chris Perez's name came up in trade rumors.
Playing for Manny Acta, who would be fired shortly before the end of the season, was not what Perez wanted to do. Acta was not right for the team, Acta had lost the clubhouse, and the blame -- on the fans, the owners, the GMs -- fell on Acta, too.
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