FanPost

My Dad Is Neifi Perez. And I Cried On the Phone.

**My apologies for this post, which is purely cathartic and selfish on my part. I am feeling strangely emotional and proud. I will not do this every day.

 

He's fortunate to enjoy good health today. He certainly shouldn't be playing two 7-inning games a day in Cleveland Indians Fantasy Camp. My father had a devastating stroke when I was 12; doctors were stunned when he demonstrated some muscle memory in the later months. He felt strong until age 61, when heart problems forced him onto beta blockers and made us all a little nervous.

So why the hell not? Why not, at 64, go to Fantasy Camp in Goodyear? What's the worst that could happen? My father was, after all, a pretty studly athlete back in the day. The Pittsburgh Pirates invited him to camp as a southpaw starter after he backed up his 84-mph heat with a lot of wicked junk at Miami Ohio. Sure, he never even played a minor league game, but dude could ball.

Needless to say I've been puking with consternation for about five months. He's been tossing, then throwing, then pitching. He's been hitting in 80-mph cages. All he wanted to do was pitch one game and deliver one solid single. The rest would be gravy. But I've been worried his heart would give him trouble, or he'd pull a muscle on the first play. It's a sick kind of role reversal.

He called tonight to recap the first of four straight double-headers.

"I'm Oh-For-Goodyear," he said. "My arm is dead. I can not throw a baseball thirty feet."

There was dead silence on the line as I searched for the right words. Finally I asked, "What position did you play?"

"I caught," he said. Then he laughed. "My managers were thrilled I can catch. You remember Brook Jacoby and Jeff Manto."

The Indians had found my father a left-handed catcher's mitt and he spent the day rolling the ball back to the mound. As he relayed this story I died inside a little. The best trainers in baseball are there and they can not give life to his arm. They've told him he's badly damaged his ulnar nerve. He will not pitch this week.

I was scared to ask how he performed in the batter's box. He answered with the raw excitement of a child.

"It was fantastic. I started off with a weak groundball to first because I was way out in front of a 75 mile-per-hour fastball." He paused and laughed with some satisfaction. "If I had an arm I could pitch circles around these guys."

I smiled and fought back my first tear.

"I struck out a couple times and then got hot. I hit two line drives right to second base. Real atom balls. My last at bat we were down two with two on, and I hit the first pitch a mile to right field. I thought it was an easy double, even for me. But the right fielder was playing on the warning track and he actually had to come IN one step to catch it."

I laughed with him. "That guy had no business playing that deep with you in the box."

"None! But what a day. I said hello to Pat Tabler for you. He looks exactly the same."

"Blonde permed mullet?"

"Well, no mullet. On my last hit, Cory Snyder jumped up and yelled, 'Good wood!' That was pretty cool."

Joe Azcue is helping my father with catching drills for the week. He's spent time with Max Alvis, Bob Feller, Mike Hargrove, Len Barker, Scott Bailes, and Dave Burba. Oh, and Rick Manning. He confirmed that Rick Manning does indeed love him some Rick Manning. But the organization is filled with class, the full panoply of which is on display in Goodyear.

Every one of the six fields carries the exact dimensions of Progressive Field. The 68-degree sunshine feels like baseball heaven. But as I laughed I couldn't help but wish so badly that my father's arm would quiet down for one game. One inning, even. He has worked so hard -- not to impress the young hotshots, but to find out if the glories of youth can still manifest in the autumn of his life.

He skipped the early dinner to take a 55-degree ice bath. I asked how he was feeling.

"So good. And also like I've been in a 10-hour fight, and I didn't fare so well. I can't wait to get up tomorrow."

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