Judging by the title & my love for the game of basketball I’m sure you are probably thinking this article is about LeBron James’ decision to come back to Cleveland. Yes, we are all “Witnesses” to an amazingly human move by an athlete who has the world in his palm. LeBron has chosen to rejuvenate his communities by injecting his self & financial prowess back into the “Land”. But this is about a professional baseball player who so selflessly gave himself to a family, right in front of us, every night…
23-year-old Hernan Perez from Aragua, Venezuela, is a multi-faceted infielder in the Detroit Tigers organization with our very own Toledo Mud Hens. Perez is a .289 hitting prospect who has been a staple in the infield all year long for the Hens. Hernan has lit up 5th/3rd Field with a passionate love for the game & a smile that gives the fans that feeling, that all is right in the world.
Conner Wright on the other hand is a 5-year-old kid. Conner & his parents Jimmy & Kim, can be found at every Mud Hens game sitting in Section 108. Right next to the Mud hens dugout, is where the Wright family cheers on their team; even if Jimmy has a late night at the hospital, he catches a few innings first. Conner came to us as a 3 year old “Play Ball Kid of the Game”. Ever since I first met him I knew he was special. From Conner’s smile, to his eclectic vocabulary, to his eagerness to know & do everything, he is just special. Since the first time I met him, I took to him. An eager kid like I was, a kid who believes in sports & the athletes that play the game.
Somewhere amongst the ump-teen million dollar contracts & college kids pleading to be paid, I lost my faith in athletes. Somewhere along the way I had become jaded.
I preface this by saying Conner loves his Batman costume. Why wouldn’t he? He’s five. Hernan Perez (who is “Mr. Hernan” to Conner) bought a new Batman costume during this season for Conner & Conner wears it faithfully every game. Sunday was Conner’s last Mud Hens game. His family is originally from Texas & it’s time for them to return home. After Sunday’s game, after the running of the bases, after the fireworks, the family wanted to get all of the Swamp Squad & all of the people who felt the way I did about Conner, together, for one last hurrah at Fricker’s™. As we piled in & filled an entire quarter of the restaurant, Conner was nowhere to be found. I looked around for him & finally asked his mother, Kim, where he was. She responded: “he’s playing a computer game with Hernan”. I was amazed, Hernan? Perez? Hernan Perez of the Mud Hens? As I looked to where Kim pointed, there was Hernan, who just spent 3½ hours on the diamond, playing a game on a computer screen with Conner. I looked at my phone to see what time it was, closing in on midnight, there they were… smiling & laughing & enjoying each other… like always. In that moment I came to realize, there are some of those “good guys” left in sports.
In that very moment, one random night after a game, Hernan Perez made me realize that the “heroes” of professional sports still exist. Whether Hernan goes on to play 15 years in the Majors, or 15 years in the Minors, or quits baseball in the next 15 days, Hernan has changed me. He has changed me for the better. For a 23-year-old from Aragua, Venezuela, named Hernan Perez, has restored my long lost faith in the professional athlete.