Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So Long, Oliver

I will miss Oliver Perez now that he has been cut from the Mets.

I know his time in New York was marred by bad press, uneven performance, and way too much interest in the three year, $36 million contract he signed two seasons ago, but my lasting images of him will always reflect the endearing, likable side of this earnest young man who worked his way, for better or worse, into the small group of the best paid practitioners of his profession.

When I think of Ollie, I will remember the Mother’s Day performance of several years ago (2006, I’m pretty sure), when he pitched remarkably well and then talked about how glad he was to have done well to honor his Mom on that special day. It was a lovely moment, indicative of both the sweet nature of the individual and the genuine passion he has for the game. I remember thinking about how proud his family and friends must be of him, and having known him through all the years of his youth, how they must cherish his every appearance in the big leagues, win or lose.

On that day and in the years since, I am happy to say that I have shared that feeling. I’ve rooted for Ollie on every pitch; I’ve groaned along with him when he struggled, leapt off the couch when he’s struck someone out, and prayed for his speedy recovery when he was injured and underwent surgery.

I can also recall a fair number of post-game interviews when an exhausted Oliver would stand beside his locker, squinting into the television lights, listening intently to some reporter’s question, when he would nod carefully at each point and at every nuance, as though carefully considering how to reply. Then, when the guy would finally trail off and wait for a response, Ollie’s expression of deep interest would suddenly go blank, and he’d reply, “huh?”

I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen something really dumb on TV, or been approached by someone selling something, or had someone unfairly criticize me or badmouth someone who I admire, when I have simply stared and said “huh?”

I owe that to Ollie :)

As a Mets fan, of course, I am glad to see the team win, and feel bad for the players when they lose. In Ollie’s case, though, I always saw a larger dimension to the story that played out on the field whenever he pitched. The mere fact that his exceptional talent had led him from his small hometown in Mexico to the biggest stage in Major League Baseball was compelling; and the fact that his personal journey had led him through a long string of difficult seasons before he came to New York was testament to his passion and persistence in the face of adversity.

From the first time I saw him pitch, I have always thought of Oliver Perez as a sincere, hardworking young man trying to maintain his dignity in the face of difficult circumstances, as his ability is admittedly unreliable at times. Despite the unevenness of his performance, he always appeared to be competing to the very limit that his ability would allow, and I think that is to his great credit.

I hope it provides him some comfort to know that he gave his best during his time with the Mets, and even in those moments when his considerable talent betrayed him, he maintained his dignity and did nothing to betray the faith of those fans who care for him and wish him well, wherever his life next leads.

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh

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