CLEVELAND -- Bored by 40-year-old artifacts that seem ancient to them, a group of junior high students were on a long, strange trip through a Grateful Dead exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when they saw something they could relate to amid Jerry Garcia's guitar collection.
Sunglasses sweeping back long hair, the bearded guy in jeans, retro sneakers and jeweled wristwatch had a rock star's look and swagger.
The kids rushed Chris Perez.
"What's your favorite thing so far?" Cleveland's colorful closer asked.
"You," one of the youngsters yelled.
Not everyone has been as excited to see Perez lately.
In case you haven't been following his exploits, Perez has been something of a renegade during this season's first two months. He's the first player to be fined under Major League's Baseball's social media policy. He's fired fastballs past opponents and offended others -- notably the Kansas City Royals -- with primal screams and gestures on the mound. He's antagonized Cleveland fans by shaming them for not backing an Indians team fighting for first place.
"You can't be afraid to speak your mind or worry about what people think about you," he said before pausing. "As long as you can back it up."
A large photo of Doors frontman Jim Morrison -- leering -- hung nearby. It seemed to fit.
In an age of political correctness, this CP doesn't worry about being PC. He's bold and brash, a baseball outlaw enjoying the ride of his life and getting paid big money to play a kid's game. He's making friends and enemies, and rattling cages along the way.
That's Perez's nickname, but it also would work nicely as the tag for a heavy metal band or punk group. It's also the attitude Perez carries with him to the mound. Now in his second season as Cleveland's closer, the hard-throwing 26-year-old, acquired in a trade from St. Louis in 2009, has become one of the game's top relievers.
After blowing his first chance of the year at home on opening day he was perfect since heading into the weekend, and has been a major reason the Indians, picked to finish way behind Detroit and Chicago in the AL Central, are hanging around the top of the division.
Perez's record almost is pristine. His performances have been far from perfect.
Watching him try to get the final three outs is not for the faint of heart. Perez is part knife thrower, part high-wire walker, a daring act loaded with surprise and suspense. He rarely retires the side easily, often putting a runner -- or two -- on base before working his way out of a self-inflicted mess.
It's the way he's always done it, going back to his days at the University of Miami and minor leagues.
"I was rough," Perez said. "I would walk three in a row and strike out three in a row. That still is me sometimes. But I'm more refined now."
In 2011, Perez made his first All-Star team and finished with 36 saves despite a tendon injury in his elbow he didn't reveal until spring training this year. Without his best stuff, Perez was forced to adapt. He learned how to pitch instead of just throwing heat.
If he allows a hit, Perez shrugs it off.
"This is going to sound bad, but it's all about cockiness and self-confidence," he said. "I take the mentality that if they get a hit, it's a fluke and it's not going to happen again. If I give up two hits, I think, 'OK, it's really fluky and I'm going to get the next three guys out.'
"I'm not going to lie, some days you don't have it, you don't feel right and the ball is nowhere I want it to go. What are you going to do? Cry? No, you've got to get the next guy."
The anger had been bubbling in Perez for weeks.
Rows of empty green seats, dwarfing filled ones by a 3-to-1 margin inside Progressive Field, irked him. The Indians were in first place and Cleveland didn't seem to care. The Indians, who once sold out 455 consecutive home games, are last in the majors in attendance, averaging about 2,500 fewer fans than the next-lowest team.
So, two days after being booed during a save at home, Perez unloaded on fans for their lack of support.
He needed to vent, and vent he did.
"I just didn't understand all the negativity," he said a few weeks later. "It's three years of seeing empty seats. We had met everyone's criteria. We were in first and playing good ball. What's your excuse now? There's no excuse. That was my whole thing. It was just building up and that one outing against Seattle was the ultimate slap in the face. Really, you guys are booing me? You don't fill the stadium and you're booing me?
"I got mad and I just went off. I tried to do it the best way possible. It was in the heat of the moment, but it was all from the heart."
It was a public relations nightmare for the Indians, but Perez stuck to his comments and found a lot of support after the initial firestorm.
"Maybe I woke up the echoes, and that's cool," he said. "That wasn't my intent, but it seemed to work."
Sure enough, the next time Perez pitched he was greeted by a standing ovation, a moment he called "humbling." He wasn't sure what to expect but was glad Cleveland, a place he seems to embody, had his back.
"I bring it every day," he said. "I got hurt in spring training and worked hard to get ready for opening day, and that didn't go very well, but I got back to the grindstone and that's what Cleveland is. My job isn't easy, but at the same time, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."
The hubbub about Perez's comments barely had quieted when he caused another ruckus.
During an outing against Kansas City last week, Perez struck out Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson and celebrated by waving his hand in front of his face, a "You can't see me" move popularized by pro wrestling star John Cena.
It wasn't Perez's first run-in with the Royals. After two bench-clearing incidents between the team in April, Perez tweeted, "You hit us, we hit you. Period." He was fined $750 by MLB for demonstrating "a reckless disregard for the safety of the players on both clubs."
Perez wasn't fazed. He has no plans to change his ways. If he records a big strikeout or save, he's going to pump his fist, scream and let his emotions flow.
"If it takes me doing stuff like that to get me pumped up, so be it," he said. "I play for my team, my teammates. If they're the only 25 guys in the league who like me, that's fine. But I know that's not the case. I've got former teammates on other teams, and they know how I am.
"I've been doing this kind of stuff since college. Honestly. That's just how I am."
When he was 10, Perez's parents divorced and he moved in with his father.
"Bachelors eating dinner in our underwear watching baseball," he said.
Living in Florida, Tim Perez took his son to Rays games and drove him to various spring training camps. Along with teaching his boy the game, the elder Perez made sure his son learned never to back down -- from anyone. His father also broadened Perez's musical tastes, which includes an affinity for '70s classic rock.
"I was born 30 years too late," joked Perez, who posts a song of the day on his Twitter page.
Music helps define him. His mother, Julie, turned him on to the Beatles and his late grandmother, Pat Fleming, cleaned her house listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."
Since college, Perez has made his way in from the bullpen with Prodigy's "Firestarter" blaring through the stadium speakers, the song's whaling guitar intro followed by a frenetic drumbeat that perfectly suits his potent personality as well as his powerful pitching style.
It motivates Perez to finish a game started by others.
He plays the final notes.
As for rock's best closer, Perez said there's only one band he would hand the ball. His favorite.
"It's Led Zeppelin, because they rocked hard," he said. "They brought it every day and never took a performance off. It's Jimmy Page doing some kind of solo with John Bonham because you've got to have the drums. You don't know how long it's going to last, but you know it's going to be good."