By Marc Lancaster
Post staff reporter
SARASOTA, Fla. - With 62 players in camp, the big-league clubhouse at the Reds' spring training facility is bustling with activity early each morning.
It isn't until a few hours later, a little after 10 a.m., that the guy who helped win a World Series title last year arrives quietly, slipping in the side door of a minor league clubhouse that resembles a high school gym class locker room.
Timo Perez doesn't quite know what to make of his situation with the Reds.
"It's my first time in minor league camp," he said Wednesday. "But I enjoy it here. I'm working hard."
Perez, who will turn 31 next month, is part of the Reds' early mini-camp for up-and-coming minor league players. Of course, he spent all of last season in the majors, and much of the previous five seasons as well, following a five-year stint in the Japanese professional leagues.
He played in 76 games for the Chicago White Sox last year, hitting .218, and though he came to the plate only once in the 2005 World Series, that's more than anyone in the Reds' major league clubhouse can say.
Because of visa limitations, Perez is not permitted to play in games where admission is charged. That prevents him from participating in Grapefruit League games and thus keeps him out of major league camp. The Reds were aware of the situation when they signed Perez to a minor-league deal Feb. 9, and even though the outfield- er isn't available to them in the short term, there's a chance he could be a contributor this season.
According to Perez and general manager Wayne Krivsky, the player will be eligible for the visa he needs as of April 1. Perez will go back home to the Dominican Republic then, pick up the visa, and return to Reds camp. He'll be assigned to Class AAA Louisville to begin the season, but at any point after that his contract could be purchased and he could play for the Reds.
"He could play well and make the major league team later in the season," Krivsky said. "He's not going to have an opportunity to make the major league team out of camp."
It's not an ideal situation for the player or the team, but both parties are making do. Perez said part of the problem is that he became a free agent so late in the offseason. Just before Christmas, the White Sox declined to tender him a contract for 2006, and he was cut loose.
As he looked for a new major league employer, Perez bided his time by tearing up the Dominican winter league. After joining perennial power Licey late in the regular season, Perez ended up hitting .447 (17-for-38) as his team made its way through the playoffs and won the Dominican title. Perez started in right field during the Caribbean Series in Venezuela and hit .316 in six games as the Dominicans fell short of the crown.
Two championships in one year, and Perez still isn't in major league camp. But he knows he'll have a chance to make it back later this year.
"It's difficult for me, my situation now," Perez said. "I'll go to AAA, and if I work hard, after a month or two months or whatever, the team might call me up to the big leagues."