BRADENTON --Julie Perez was headed home from work and had just crossed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge when the call came to her cell phone at about 5:45 p.m. Thursday. It was the call she and the Perez family have been hoping to receive for a long time now.
Her son Chris Perez broke the big news: he's a big leaguer.
The IMG Academy School graduate and Manatee County product was promoted from Triple-A Memphis and was in the St. Louis bullpen when the Cardinals took on the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Busch Stadium.
"He said, 'Mom, you better buy some tickets to St. Louis,' " Julie recalled. "I had goosebumps all over my body. He's wanted this for so long, and we've wanted this for him. We're thrilled."
Perez, a 2006 first-round draft pick out of Miami, has advanced quickly through the Cardinals' system. After spending spring training in the team's major league camp, he was assigned to start the season in Triple-A, where he saved eight games with an ERA just more than 2.00.
"Chris has been doing well in Triple-A, so it looked like it might happen sooner or later," Julie said. "We had a feeling all week because the closer in St. Louis (Jason Isringhausen) has been struggling. Chris's dad (Tim) reads all the blogs, and he told me they were calling for him, but you never know."
St. Louis made room on the roster for Perez when Isringhausen was placed on the disabled list. With the news, the Perez family set about getting to St. Louis to see Chris' big league debut - which should come sometime this weekend.
"It's a big day," Julie said as the family navigated their rental car upon arriving in St. Louis on Friday afternoon. "It's so big that it makes you kind of discombobulated, and you can't think straight."
Chris Perez was already at Busch Stadium and unavailable for comment. After buying a house in Tampa in the offseason and growing up in the Tampa Bay area, he may face what could be called his hometown team.
"That's the ultimate irony," Julie said. "The Rays are so hot, so I'm a little worried about that."
Julie flew up to St. Louis along with her husband and Chris' fiancee. She said they were going to get to the ballpark as soon as they opened the gates, hoping to take in the day. Some more family might be arriving from Cincinnati for today's game.
Perez likely won't assume the closer's role immediately, but he can give the Cardinals a quality arm out of the pen. In 17 2/3 innings at Memphis, the 6-foot-4 right-hander struck out 22 batters and walked nine.
Prior to the season, Perez was rated the No. 2 prospect in the Cardinals organization.
"He's popping it pretty good," Memphis pitching coach Dyar Miller told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "He's real intimidating out there. . . . Boy, he comes at you."
But first he came from Manatee County
"He's a hometown boy," Julie said. "He was born right there at Manatee Memorial hospital."