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06/05/09 3:39 PM ET

Perez kicks off 'Reading with the Rays'

Rookie outfielder happy to give back to the community

TAMPA, Fla. -- As soon as Fernando Perez put down the book, one of the elementary school kids gathered to listen to him raised his hand. His question was a typical one.

"What's Evan Longoria like?" the child asked.

Perez chuckled -- he's done charity events like this before, and each time a similar question is asked.

"The kids usually don't care so much about the book -- they just ask me questions about B.J. (Upton) and Evan (Longoria)," the Rays outfielder joked.

Perez kicked off Tampa Bay's second-annual "Reading with the Rays" program Friday morning at Town N' Country Regional Library in Tampa, Fla. About 40 children from local elementary schools gathered to hear Perez read "Curious George at the Ballpark".

Perez, a rookie outfielder who's currently on the 60-day disabled list following a wrist injury in March, is in his fifth year of professional baseball and attended Columbia University. With the team on the road in New York, Perez said he was more than happy to take the opportunity to give something back to the community.

"I have a great opportunity just being here," Perez said. "This is the first year I've started in the Major Leagues. I've tried to do as much as I can."

Perez has done a few similar events already this year, but Friday marked the first of a season-long initiative by the Rays to encourage reading for youths. In a joint partnership with the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper in Education program and the Helios Education Foundation, the Rays will have a lineup of free reading events with different players throughout the summer.

In a purple children's reading room in the Town N' Country Library, with baseball-themed children's books lining the shelves, Perez and Rays mascot Raymond engaged the young audience by answering questions and signing autographs afterward.

Most of the questions had less to do with Curious George, and more with the players they watch on TV each night.

"Is Aki a good player?" asked one child, referring to second baseman Akinori Iwamura.

"Are we on TV?" asked another.

"Personally I'm more apt to do something like that, when it involves kids," Perez said. "Anytime it involves kids I'm totally for it and I volunteer for it. If one kid gets something out of it, then that's good. I'm all for it."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.