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Young gods: Immortality and youth
Raul Perez, 1983-2006
Raul Perez, 1983-2006

Homer often called the heroic young men of his time young gods blessed with youth and, like Achilles, the self-destructive notion that they were immortal.

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.

But that 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.

Raul Perez was the catcher on the Los Angeles Valley College baseball team that my son helped pitch to a junior college championship last year.

When 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.

It 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.

It 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.

The 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.

Authorities 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.

For 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 immortality.

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, 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 year.”

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 make.

Tony Castro can be reached at tcastro@laindependent.com.

Tony Castro Archives


. . . more pages . . .
27.SEP.06 Heaven help me: I married the Black Dahlia
05.SEP.06 Villaraigosa Waits for the Fat Lady to Sing
30.AUG.06 The mayor's stepping stone to the future
30.AUG.06 Antonio reaches for the political heavens
23.AUG.06 Is L.A. squelching the public’s voice?
02.AUG.06 Anti-Semite Passion of the Road Warrior
26.JUL.06 The melancholy prince of undercover cops
19.JUL.06 Too many guns, not enough rosaries
05.JUL.06 Monica Garcia: The female Villaraigosa?
28.JUN.06 Sopra Spuntini & Bar: Romantic L.A.
14.JUN.06 Hollywood Black Film Festival opens
14.JUN.06 The NFL: Coming to Villaraigosa's house, if not L.A.
07.JUN.06 De León rides Villaraigosa’s coattails
07.JUN.06 What the election means for Villaraigosa
31.MAY.06 AD 45 and the political legacy of Antonio
31.MAY.06 Adelphia to WeHo: Pay until it hurts
31.MAY.06 AD 42: Will Abbe Land move on or stay?
31.MAY.06 In the footsteps of an American Idol
24.MAY.06 Just call Antonio L.A.'s 'Jetset Mayor'
17.MAY.06 WeHo to Antonio: Hold your horses
17.MAY.06 Give us this day, our daily bread
10.MAY.06 Looking for Hemingway
26.APR.06 Political 'vision' or political Waterloo?
05.APR.06 Young gods: Immortality and youth

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