June 27, 2006
By Laurence Miedema
San Jose Mercury News
Nick Pereira was having such a good season with the San Jose Giants that he pitched himself right out of tonight's all-star game.
The Cupertino High product probably would have started in the California League/Carolina League All-Star Game in Salem, Va. But the Giants' organization needed Pereira at Triple-A Fresno, so that's where he is.
Pereira, 23, made a two-level jump last week, and what began as a two-start stint is turning into an extended audition. Saturday, the right-hander earned his first Triple-A victory.
``He gives you the total package,'' said San Jose's Lenn Sakata, who will manage a Cal League squad that includes Giants relievers Brian Anderson and Justin Hedrick. ``How far he goes, time will tell. But I like what I've seen so far.''
Pereira, who was 7-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 13 starts for the Giants, has pitched just 29 games as a pro and could return to San Jose for more seasoning. But he is a rising star in the organization.
Next month, as part of Major League Baseball's All-Star festivities in Pittsburgh, Pereira will play in the Futures Game, the annual showcase of top minor league prospects.
Not bad for a guy who didn't start pitching until five years ago and who wasn't picked until the 10th round of the June 2005 draft.
``When he called and said he was going to Triple-A, our heads were spinning,'' said Pereira's mother, Denise Baughman. ``I was telling a girlfriend the other day that if I'm dreaming, don't bother pinching me.''
When her son was drafted, Denise dug up a picture of a 3-year-old Nick, who was decked out in Giants pajamas and a Giants plastic batting helmet, trying to eat cereal through a catcher's mask. Nick keeps that picture tucked inside his organizer.
``I think he was born to do this,'' Denise said.
Denise raised Nick and his younger sister, Ashley, largely on her own. They moved from New York to Cupertino in 1994 to live with Denise's mother, Pat. The close-knit family rarely misses a game when Nick pitches.
Last winter, Denise got married and moved to Texas, but she still attended all of Nick's starts in San Jose and was in Portland, Ore., last week for his Triple-A debut. She'll be in Fresno when he pitches Thursday, and you just know she'll be at Pittsburgh's PNC Park on July 9 for the Futures Game.
``She's been right there with me my whole life, for all the good times and the bad times,'' Pereira said. ``She's not going to miss anything now.''
Until Pereira discovered pitching, a career in baseball seemed unlikely.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder twice was an all-league shortstop at Cupertino High, but he realized after his freshman season at De Anza College that he would never be enough of a hitter to continue. Pereira could throw the ball 90 mph, though, so he turned his attention to the mound.
``In his first game, his first pitch was 94 (mph), and then he hit 97,'' De Anza Coach Scott Hertler said. `That's when my pitching coach and I looked at each other and said, `This guy is special.' ''
Pereira landed a scholarship at USF. He pitched only 37 1/3 innings with the Dons as a junior, primarily as a reliever.
The following spring, everything clicked and Pereira blossomed into one of the top pitchers in the West Coast Conference. He went 10-3 with a 2.21 ERA and averaged nearly a strikeout per inning. The Giants saw Pereira as another Jesse Foppert or Jeremy Accardo, two guys who also converted to pitching during their college careers, and took him late on the first day of the draft.
``The biggest thing about Nick is that he throws strikes,'' said Bobby Evans, the Giants' director of player personnel. ``He's also such a competitor. He has great makeup.''
Pereira made an encouraging pro debut last season, going 5-3 with a 3.04 ERA at Salem-Keizer in the Class A short-season Northwest League. But this season has been a bust-out. Pereira set the tone in his first start, allowing one hit in six shutout innings. He didn't suffer a loss until May 28, his 10th start, and never allowed more than four runs.
Pereira has had two solid starts with Fresno. In his debut, he walked his first batter and allowed a home run to the second but pitched into the seventh inning. Saturday, he went five innings in a 5-4 win at Colorado Springs.
``Things really have come together, but I wouldn't say I'm surprised,'' Pereira said. ``I set pretty high goals for myself, and I don't handle failure very well.''