Flair + Heart

07/06/2011 – Daily News Record

“Hollywood” A Star For Turks Written by Mike Barber Sports Department, Daily News Record Harrisonburg – Three necklaces dangle around R.J. Perucki’s neck while he plays shortstop for the Harrisonburg Turks. One is a gold chain with a cross and pennants from his girlfriend and grandmother. Another is a necklace made from the laces of a baseball, a gift from his girlfriend.

The third: a titanium Phiten necklace that claims to promote balance, relieve pain and boost energy.

Perucki’s girlfriend insists he wear the first two. The third one? “I just wear that cause it looks cool,” Perucki said Tuesday, an off-day for the first-place Turks.

Looking cool is something Perucki, a sophomore this fall at Texas-San Antonio, apparently has down.

He always has his sunglasses on him, over his eyes, on the front of his cap, or spun around to the back of his head. He wears a wrap around his left wrist and a sleeve up his left arm. And, of course, tere are the three necklaces draped over his head.

“Ever time I’m running, I jimgle,” Perucki said before he and four teammates headed to Washington for a Nationals game Tuesday night.

Teammate Niko Spezial dubbed him “Hollywood” this summer and the nickname has caught on with the rest of his Valley League teammates. He even let fellow Turks Jay Gonzalez and Eric Mason Convince him to have a star shaved into the back of his head last month. (His hair’s grown back now, but he wouldn’t rule out doing it again.)

“He does have a little flair,” UTSA associate head coach Jason Marshall said Tuesday by phone from his San Antonio office. “He’s not arrogant, but he does think he’s good. He always backs it up with hard work. Whatever flair he’s putting into the game it’s coming out of a guy who has the heart to win.”

He also has won the starting shortstop job for the Turks. Harrisonburg owner/skipper Bob Wease began the summer with Perucki, James Madison’s Casey Goss and Indiana’s Michael Basil splitting time at shortstop. Basil went 1-for-15 in the first 10 games, starting four, before leaving the Valley League to play for Forest City Owls of the coastal Plain League. Goss has been a regular in the Turks’ lineup and had been starting at short before Perucki’s emergence. Goss is now seeing time at second and third base. He is hitting .192 in 21 games.

Perucki meanwhile has started 19 of the Turks 27 games this summer, including the last nine. Harrisonburg is 8-1 in that span.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Perucki is hitting. 311 in the wooden-bat league and has scored 16 runs, fifth on the team.

“RJ got in there and did the job,” Wease said. “He can play shortstop. He’s got a good arm, he’s got a great release. And he’s hitting the ball for us.”

Marshall, who works with the infielders at UTSA, wasn’t surprised to learn that Perucki had earned his way into being an everyday player for the Turks.

“He’s one of those kids that brings an attitude to the field,” Marshall said. “He really loves to win. I don’t know how many guys really take pride in the team and winning the game. I think he really takes that part personally.”

That certainly appeals to Wease. In a summer league culture where players are often out to improve their own skills and iimpress scouts, winning sometimes takes a backseat. But not with Perucki, Wease said.

“He has a heart for the game,” Wease said. “He wants to win. He’s my kind of guy.”

Harrisonburg is 21-6 and has a 5 1/2 game lead over second-place New Market in the VBL’s Central Division with 17 regular-season games remaining.

“This is probably the most clutch team I’ve been on in my life,” said Perucki, who played at Texas state power Tomball High School and helped his Connie Mack League team to the championship series. “We always find ways to win.”

At UTSA, Perucki redshirted his freshman year after suffering a labrum tear in his left – non throwing – shoulder. He said that year helped him mature, both physically and mentally. At 19 – he turns 20 this week – that maturity may have been an issue this past season in college.

Marshall said Perucki is a professional-level talent defensively at shortstop but that he committed “errors in bunches” at times, seemingly losing focus after making mistakes in the field.

“He was not putting failure behind him very well,” Marshall said. “As soon as he learns to put failure in its place and play in the moment, the sky will be the limit for him as a defender. He has the feet and the arm. It’s just more of a mental approach. That’s just maturity.”

This summer, he’s committed eight errors in 81 chances, a respectable mark for a shortstop. Wease certainly has no complaints about Perucki’s offense or defense.

Now, those necklaces?

“Some ballplayers are strange,” Wease said. “If that’s what makes him play well, he can wear three necklaces.”