By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
When you reach out to a high school coach about a famous former player, he'll usually tell you the player had "Future Major Leaguer" all but stamped on his forehead.
Erik Treese and Pat Clements are no different in that respect. They were among Rays rookie Fernando Perez's prep coaches, and both can tell you all about the myriad physical gifts Perez displayed at an early age.
"He was an extraordinary athlete," Treese told MLB.com by phone. "The best I've ever coached or been around."
Then again, Treese and Clements are not like most coaches. As teachers at New Jersey's prestigious Peddie School, they have the privilege of working with students whose gifts run the gamut.
Among Peddie's alumni are congressmen, senators, award-winning authors, military generals and CIA operatives.
Peddie also has produced its share of standout athletes, including 1936 Heisman Trophy winner Larry Kelly and former big league pitcher Erik Hanson, but it's not known as an athletic powerhouse.
A boarding school in Hightstown, N.J., Peddie is an academic powerhouse of the highest order. And when talking about Perez, Treese and Clements make it clear that he wasn't at Peddie because he could run, throw and hit.
He was there because he could think, write and articulate at a level with which his baseball exploits paled by comparison.
Clements was Perez's freshman baseball coach, but he dealt with Perez more closely as part of a program that provides Peddie students a wide range of academic opportunities, including research on foreign soil.
"We kind of lived together ... so we got to know each other very well," said Clements, who told of Perez having been visibly moved upon seeing 20,000-year-old paintings inside a cave on a private farm in Spain while working on an archeology project.
"He's got a richness of experience and a way of seeing the world that's really subtle and strong, and he had that as a 15-year-old boy."
"The thing that distinguished Fernando was he had incredible talents in a number of different areas," Treese said. "He was the kind of kind of kid you could see doing spectacularly well in anything he wanted to do."
An assistant with Peddie's varsity baseball team who served as Perez's school-appointed advisor, Treese was particularly impressed by Perez's writing ability.
That writing talent was on display in a journal that Perez wrote for MinorLeagueBaseball.com. Perez was born in Elizabeth, N.J., but his family is from Cuba, and the twists of fate that took him from Elizabeth to Peddie to the Ivy League -- he focused on creative writing at New York's Columbia University -- and finally into professional baseball prompted the following entry from extended Spring Training in 2007:
"My family snuck out of Cuba just before they'd have been killed if they were caught. It might just as easily never have happened. My late grandfather might just as easily have been less heroic or frozen by the sentiments of leaving his land and our family behind.
"I woke up not in a Third World country, as perhaps I should have, but here in the American middle class that's virtually impossible to fall from if you make a modest effort.
"These kids, most of whom look like they could be my brother, awoke somewhere else. The plunge that's taken by foreign-born players is remarkable. Even more, the cultural implications of setting out to do what they do is fit material for a book. The number of 'stars' and 'heroes' in America is somewhat overwhelming.
In the Dominican Republic, nothing means more to a kid than the ballplayer from his town. He is royalty, he is hope personified -- but not 'Be Like Mike' wanna-be-a-star hope plastered all over suburban walls. It's far graver. So much more is at stake. It's 'food for everyone with my last name' hope."
Not your typical ballplayer, right?
"I always assumed he would somehow end up writing," Treese said.
"Or," added Clements, "he'll end up being the senior senator from New Jersey."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.