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Young Perez
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Westminster's young Perez a dual threat

Ambidextrous Perez turning heads on baseball diamond

 
Westminster Christian's Ryan Perez delivers a left-handed pitch during a game last season. The Warriors standout is ambidextrous in pitching, fielding and hitting. karen naess for the courier-news

June 28, 2009

Meet Ryan Perez, living proof of what happens when hard work, creativity and talent are combined.

Perez might be only 15 years old, but his name is already starting to resonate with college and professional baseball scouts. As far as baseball ability goes, it doesn't get much better than being a switch hitter, switch fielder and switch pitcher.

That's right. Perez, a Hampshire native who recently completed his freshman year at Westminster Christian, can do anything on a baseball field with both hands and do it well.

That ability was enough to get Perez recognized as the state's top Class of 2012 prospect by the Prep Baseball Report last winter. Perez lived up to the hype this spring with a productive varsity season on the mound, at the plate and in the field for the Warriors.

STARTING YOUNG -- Perez's flexibility in every facet of the game represents a baseball coach's dream, and it's a dream his father Juan Perez decided to pursue when Ryan was a toddler.

A lifelong passion for the sport led Juan to experiment with developing an ambidextrous ballplayer when Ryan came along as the youngest of his six children.

"From the moment I put a baseball in his hand, at that time I decided to see if it could be done," Juan said. "I figured he was my last son and I always wondered if it could be done. So I took the chance and tried it with him."

Both father and son agree the process wasn't easy.

Despite being naturally right-handed, Ryan was conditioned by Juan to throw with both hands. When Ryan would pick up a ball with his right hand, Juan would make him move it over to his left.

Eventually it became second nature for Ryan to handle a ball with both hands and throw with both arms. These days, he thinks nothing of the talent.

"It felt a little bit awkward at first, but I started so young that I really didn't feel much difference," Ryan said. "Now I think my left arm has pretty much caught up."

Getting comfortable using both arms represented only part of the challenge in Ryan's development as an ambidextrous player.

Through the years Juan has helped Ryan put together an impressive repertoire of pitches he can use with either arm. He employs a fastball that's been clocked at 80 miles per hour from both sides. He also uses a change-up, curveball and cutter and occasionally throws sidearm with both his right and left hand.

Ryan has also blossomed into a sure-handed infielder who throws right-handed when playing shortstop or third base and left-handed when playing first base. Offensively, he is a competent hitter from either side of the plate.

All those tools helped Ryan enjoy a successful freshman season despite playing against varsity opponents who were generally several years older. He went 6-2 on the mound with a 2.43 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings. He also hit .275 with two home runs, 13 RBIs, 19 runs scored and seven doubles.

COMING FROM A BASEBALL FAMILY -- If anyone was born with a predisposition to succeed as an ambidextrous ballplayer, it was Ryan Perez. Simply put, baseball runs deep in the Perez family.

Juan, a 1971 graduate of Elgin High, went on to play at Elgin Community College and later played some semi-pro ball before an arm injury cut short his playing days.

Ryan's older brothers Nathan and Aaron were talented high school baseball players at Burlington Central. Nathan went on to play at Judson while Aaron continued his playing career at ECC. They've both served as assistant coaches at Westminster for several years.

In many ways, Ryan is just continuing a family tradition.

"Juan is a very passionate baseball guy," Westminster coach Jeff Moeller said. "All of his kids have been very good baseball players. Ryan is the last one and he's spent a lot of time working with him. Ryan has worked hard and he's getting that reward now."

Ryan's older sister Vanessa is also a talented athlete who advanced Downstate in girls track each of the past three years at Central.

Having his older brothers on the coaching staff at Westminster influenced Ryan choice to attend the school. To top off the family's connection to the program, Juan joined the coaching staff last spring as the Warriors pitching coach.

With so much athletic prowess and so many knowledgeable baseball minds in the family, it comes as no surprise that Ryan is excelling in the game. But Juan is quick to caution that more than just pure talent is at work.

"A lot of times if he goes to a clinic or something, they go on the side of it being a gift," Juan said. "But Ryan and I know it was a lot of work."

Juan notes that Ryan is committed to improving his baseball skills all year. In the fall and winter he works in the weight room with fellow Westminster freshman Kevin Elder, who is also a talented pitcher and was ranked No. 2 in Prep Baseball Report's preseason list of 2012 prospects.

The summer is the busiest time of year for Ryan, who plays with both Westminster's summer team and the McHenry County Hurricanes 15-year-old team.

For all the good family genes working in Ryan's favor, the ability to be effective on the baseball field with both hands likely wouldn't exist without his diligent devotion to the game. After all, his ambidexterity doesn't extend beyond baseball.

When it comes to brushing his teeth, eating, writing and playing other sports, Ryan is always right-handed.

"I played basketball for a couple seasons," Ryan said. "I tried shooting left-handed. It just didn't look as good."

MAKING IT WORK -- The logistics of pitching with both arms might seem complicated, but Ryan has things under control.

He uses a special glove his brother found after a long search led him to Akadema, a company that specializes in baseball and softball equipment. The glove has six fingers, allowing Ryan to easily switch from one hand to the other.

The baseball rule book also helps simplify what Ryan can and can't do as a pitcher. He is allowed to switch hands every at-bat, but he can't change hands every other pitch.

Although rare, a switch pitcher isn't unheard of. Pat Venditte, a member of the New York Yankees minor league system, has gotten national exposure for his ability to pitch with both arms.

Nonetheless, Perez's talent is enough to turn heads.

"It's funny because you hear different comments from the other team," Ryan said. "They'll say, 'New pitcher, new pitcher,' but all I did was switch arms."

The future certainly looks bright for Ryan, who hopes to accomplish big things in the coming years at Westminster. The Warriors return a number of key players from the squad that set a school record for wins in 2009 by going 26-9.

Ryan's unique talent could lead to a lengthy career beyond high school, but for now he is keeping a level head about the future. With that said, he isn't afraid to dream big.

"At first I didn't think about that stuff, or at least I'd try not to," Ryan said. "But I think if I keep working really hard I can definitely get to the major leagues."