March 23, 2009
This time last week, Felix Perez was busy buying tickets to make sure he'd be in the stands for the United States' WBC elimination game on Tuesday against Puerto Rico.
But on Sunday night, Perez was holding down a spot of honor in front of the Team USA dugout while wishing all the players luck before their semifinal game against Japan.
Sports stories don't get any better than this one, really. You probably read earlier this week about Perez, the 27-year-old U.S. sergeant who was seriously injured while serving in Iraq, and his quest to get his American flag signed after Wright's game-winning hit dropped just fair at Miami's Dolphin Stadium. If not, ths story goes like this: A kind security guard helped Perez out and brought him into the clubhouse celebration. Many smiles and autographs later, the Mets fan had an entire team of new baseball buddies, including his favorite player, Wright.
So many people were touched by the story that Y! Sports' own Jeff Passan had an email inbox full of people wanting to ensure that Perez could make it to Los Angeles this weekend for the WBC semis and final. Some worked for airlines and wanted to arrange flights. Others wanted to know how they could PayPal over their cash so he'd have a little spending money.
But the great part about the story is that while everyone at home was reaching out to a total stranger, the same thing was going on among the U.S. players. Wright spearheaded an effort to pass that hat, among his teammates, they did and Perez got the call on Thursday to make sure that he and his parents cleared their weekend schedules.
"They called me up and said I was going," he remembered. "I said, 'Going where?'"
After finishing up with batting practice on Sunday, Wright made a beeline for Perez. And even though that there were about a dozen TV cameras surrounding him, he spoke quiet enough so that only Perez could hear what he was saying. It was their little moment.
"We were fortunate enough to meet him in Miami," Wright explained to reporters a few minutes later. "Guys got together and wanted to bring him out here. I'm glad that we were able to. You put on this (U.S.) uniform and you all have your individual thoughts on what the uniform means. But then you have a whole different interpretation when you hear from someone like (Felix)."
Before heading into the dugout for good, Wright visited with Perez one last time and posed for plenty of pictures. He wrangled U.S. manager Davey Johnson and made sure he got in the shot, too. Moments later, Perez's father took Wright aside and whispered into his ear.
"You don't know how much this means to us," he said.
And, yes, the video is working. (Anyone know what's up with those bars on Vimeo?)