Southsider Voice correspondent
Cam Perkins’ homecoming could not have been friendlier.
The former Southport High School baseball standout is on a meteoric professional rise from Class A minor league baseball to the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who visited Victory Field last week. The Indianapolis Indians took the International League series 3-1 and retained first place in the West Division.
Perkins and the IronPigs arrived in Indy on July 6 after a nearly 10-hour bus ride from Rochester, N.Y., and faced the Indians that afternoon. Afterward, he was able to head to his family’s Southside residence for some home cooking, chats with friends and family and a bed at home instead of a motel or an overnight bus ride.
Indiana’s most prolific high school hitter made the most of his time at Victory Field and fielded several TV, radio and print interviews, signed autographs and became reacquainted with Southport baseball coach Scott Whitlock and a few former players. The former Purdue star also acknowledged a few cheers of “Boiler up!”
“It was nice to be back where I started and sleep in my own bed,” he said. “I’ve seen so many people who helped me along the way.”
He recalled hitting a home run into the trees in left field during the 2009 Marion County championship game at Victory Field. Last week the lanky 6-5 outfielder had two deja vu moments, hitting a double to the wall and a deep single, both to left field. Perkins scored the tying 3-3 run, and the IronPigs went on to win 7-4 June 9 to spoil an Indians’ sweep.
“That home run was one of the best moments in my career,” he said. “Playing at Southport did so much for me, getting my name out there, attracting scouts and doing the academics.”
Perkins still holds the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s record for single-season batting average (.727) and career (.628). The Texas native played three seasons at Purdue, leading the Boilers in homers and RBIs for two consecutive years, and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012.
Whitlock is among Perkins’ admirers.
“He’s one of those kids that when he hits, everybody in the area stops and kind of looks,” Whitlock told Rich Nye of Channel 13. “You can just hear the sound of the ball off the bat. You know it’s just exploding.”
Amazingly, the 2009 Southport graduate’s baseball path is on the same career path as Southport and Phillies great Chuck Klein (1904-1958), who also played right field. Klein, known as the “Hoosier Hammer,” was a four-time National League home run champion, a two-time NL Most Valuable Player and the last player to lead the NL in home runs and stolen bases (1932). He was a 1980 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee.
“I’ve heard a lot about him,” Perkins said. “It’s pretty cool that he went from Southport to the Phillies. If I can turn out to be the player he was, I’ll be more than happy.”
Perkins’ pro journey has taken him from Williamsport, Pa.; Clearwater, Fla.; Reading, Pa.; and Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Pa.). He hit .342 and a league-high 19 doubles for Reading (Double-A).
He entered Victory Field last week as a lean 6-5, 195-pound major league prospect who understands the challenges of Triple-A ball.
“It’s baseball, and I’ve been playing this game all my life,” Perkins said. “The crowds and the stakes get a little higher each step. The more I can simplify the game, the better it is for me. I go up to the plate not trying to do too much, just trying to hit the ball hard between the lines – that’s the goal.”
Pro baseball bloggers contend that Perkins’ batting style lacks power and is unorthodox, even to the point of not wearing batting gloves, a habit he picked up at Southport after breaking a finger. Critics say he needs to gain weight.
His managers contend that he puts the barrel of the bat on the ball constantly and has great anticipation, awareness and baseball IQ.
“I’m an unnatural baseball player, but it works for me,” Perkins admitted. “You wouldn’t teach the way I hit or throw or run. They (coaches and managers) know I’m an aggressive hitter and that I’ll put the ball in play. There isn’t anything I can’t help the team do.”
His style paid off in early June when he was boarding the Reading team bus to go to Harrisburg, Pa., and he was told to go get your stuff. A driver picked him up one-half hour later, and took Perkins to join Lehigh Valley’s starting lineup for an IL game in Louisville that night.
“The life of a baseball player; I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.