Young gods: Immortality and youth
TONY CASTRO, Columnist 05.APR.06
|Raul Perez, 1983-2006|
often called the heroic young men of his time young gods blessed with
youth and, like Achilles, the self-destructive notion that they were
Young men today are no different, especially young men
with athletic talent. It is that god-given talent that gives them the
reckless disregard for themselves when running against 270-pound
linebackers or facing 90 miles per hour fastballs.
sense of immortality also makes them reckless in life, believing they
can stop a sports car on a dime or take risks that most of us stopped
taking when we learned about gravity.
I was reminded of that again in mourning the death of one of my older son’s friends last week.
Perez was the catcher on the Los Angeles Valley College baseball team
that my son helped pitch to a junior college championship last year.
the season ended, Perez and another teammate — an all-league shortstop
— signed to play at New Mexico Highlands University, a small school in
the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, some 90 miles from Albuquerque.
is a school where half the baseball team is from California, and those
California boys typically get cabin fever trapped in a tiny college
town, especially after games. So the ritual, I’m told, became for
post-game celebrations to include a caravan of cars driving the
straight, unlit highway from Las Vegas to Albuquerque and back.
was what Perez, the shortstop and another California youngster were
doing in a pickup in the wee hours of the morning of March 26 — driving
back from Albuquerque at the head of the caravan after a post-game
night of partying.
Teammates who were in the car behind them
believe that that Perez and the shortstop had fallen asleep and that
the driver of the pickup — the other youngster from California — must
have drifted off as well.
They recall seeing the pickup swerve
off to the left, then swerve sharply to the right, as if the driver had
suddenly awakened and tried to get the pickup back on the road.
Instead, the pickup tumbled to the right of the highway and began turning over several times.
When it came to rest, three lives had been destroyed.
Perez, who was sitting in the middle, was thrown clear of the pickup and apparently died instantly of a head trauma.
shortstop, Miguel Gomez, had a leg crushed and two broken vertabrae in
his neck. He remains hospitalized in critical condition.
The driver suffered minor injuries but was otherwise unhurt. He has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
investigating the accident determined that none of the three was
wearing a seat beat — and that the driver, if not all three youngsters,
had been drinking.
Last week’s wake and funeral for Raul Perez, 22, was packed with family, friends and, of course, present and former teammates.
the grieving parents, Raul Sr. and Lisette Perez of La Canada, there is
what sad consolation comes to a parent who has to bury a child — the
support and love of their surviving son and daughter, family and
friends and their faith.
But for Perez’s teammates, all of them
stunned and teary-eyed, his tragic death for the moment served as a
wake-up call from their intoxication with their own youthful sense of
As they paid their last respects to their
teammate, in his coffin looking almost smaller than lifelike, certainly
this thought must have crossed their minds: There, but for the grace of
God, lay I.
My own son Trey was shaken as I had never seen him
before. He is several years younger than Raul and, like many before
him, now facing a decision of where to transfer to continue his
education and possibly his baseball career.
At the wake, Perez’s father put his arms around Trey and gave him the same advice we have often doled out.
please, be careful when you’re driving and consider very carefully the
decision you have to make about where you’re going to go to school next
I thanked Raul Sr., but I sensed that maybe the best
advice was coming from his late son, lying there, quietly, without a
word, but a silence much stronger and louder than any sound we could
Tony Castro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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