Former Grand Rapids Stars’ Opinions Vary on PEBA Call-up

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Updated: September 21, 2013

Serving southwest Michigan since 1834
October 16, 2018
By Ben Hayden, Gazette Staff

The Grand Rapids Rafters captured their second consecutive Global Baseball Brotherhood championship this past season and what makes it even more impressive is that it was done without two standout players who helped them get there.

Aurelio Pérez and Manny Womack had big seasons in AAA, which saw them called up to the Kalamazoo Badgers during the season, much to the dismay of the fans in Grand Rapids.

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While both men were overjoyed to finally get the chance to play in the big leagues, it was with mixed emotions that both men handled the news of the call-up.

“It was tough man,” said Womack, from his home in La Porte, IN, where he is nursing a fractured foot that ended his season on Sept. 20. “On one hand I was overjoyed to get the call to the big leagues; but on the other hand, it was tough to leave Grand Rapids. We had such a great team there and to get the chance to win back-to-back championships is something special. It was tough to leave my teammates and coaches in the middle of that. My heart was definitely in Grand Rapids.”

Over 92 games in AAA, Womack put up a .274/.357/.579 slash line, with 29 homeruns and 89 RBI.

The transition to the big leagues didn’t go quite as smoothly, as through 57 at bats he hit only .246/.283/.351 and has yet to tally his first big league homerun.

“My performance wasn’t the best, but of course it wasn’t that many at bats. It’s also possibly my heart just wasn’t in it. I’ll be ready to go fully in 2019,” Womack said.alt

The situation was much different for Pérez, who was a first round draft pick, fifth overall, in 2015. He is also the first draft pick ever made by general manager Cole Hobson, so expectations were understandably high when the 24-year-old righty made his way to Kalamazoo.

Perez met the lofty expectations, pitching to a 4-0 mark over six starts, with a tidy 3.35 ERA in 40.1 innings.

“I couldn’t be happier in Kalamazoo,” he said shortly after his call-up. “It’s never easy to leave a winning ball club that has a shot at a championship, but every since I was a little boy this was the goal, to play in the PEBA. You don’t pass up an opportunity to do that or to reach your dream. When the call came, there was never a doubt, I wanted to be here.”

While the players were pleased to make it to PEBA, the Grand Rapids fanbase was significantly less enthused. There was significant backlash from the Rafters fanbase, who brought a variety of signs to games chiding the Kalamazoo front office.

“Fans were upset and rightfully so,” said James Brinkman, the play-by-play voice for the Rafters. “Here you have a team that in some ways is kind of becoming a bit of a AAA dynasty and to have two of their best players taken away from the team during the stretch drive, it’s tough. It’s made even tougher when the fans realize that Kalamazoo really isn’t contending for anything and they have no real shot of doing anything in 2018.”

“Of course, what people need to realize is that it’s all part of the greater development plan and the main goal here is to get players ready for the PEBA. The AAA championships are nice, but the end goal is doing what’s best for the Badgers and obviously Hobson and the front office thought it was time for them to be called up.”

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For his part, Womack was touched by the outpouring of support he received from the fans.

“I think everyone’s happy for you, but at the same time it’s their hometown ballteam and they want to see it succeed. They know we aren’t going to be there forever, but 2018 was a special year in Grand Rapids and it would have been great to see it through until the end,” he said. “When I see fans on TV holding ‘Bring Back Manny’ signs, it chokes me up. Grand Rapids had the best fans and I hope they continue to follow us while we’re up in Kalamazoo.”

The page has been turned on 2018 and, without any setbacks, on the careers of Perez and Womack as minor leaguers. Both men will factor prominently into Kalamazoo’s plans going forward and expectations will continue to be high.

“I’m all in for 2019. I may have had a tough time adjusting and being away from Grand Rapids last year, but next year my sole focus is on being a major leaguer,” Womack said. “This past season I kind of had one eye on the TV checking things out in Grand Rapids and one eye up in Kalamazoo; but I promise I’ll be ready to go for 2019.”