Far from the beauty of a college baseball park and even further away from the fanfare of the game, A.J. Perez is grinding through the hot summer months.
Sitting on a bucket of baseballs in a corner of the Primetime Batting Cages in Alice, Perez is working on a swing. It’s not his swing. By all accounts, his is fine and getting better. What he’s focused on this morning is tweaking the swing of young Russell Prophet.
Calm and patient, Perez places a ball on the tee and Prophet swings away with all that his little body has. Perez points out what he likes about the swing, and then adjusts the boy’s hands and reminds him to always keep his eyes on the ball.
With the next ball comes another mighty swing. This time, the sweet sound of an echoing ping — music to a baseball player’s ears — proves Perez’s work — his advice — is paying off.
Perez is scheduled to graduate this next year with a degree in accounting and depending on his eligibility after an injury ended his senior season this spring at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, he may resume his college baseball career this coming season at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. His eligibility depends on if the NCAA grants him another year because of the injury on his throwing hand.
And maybe it’s being at home this summer in Alice where he first began playing baseball and where he shined in high school or it could be all the time he’s spending teaching baseball and even coaching his little boy Ashton’s tee-ball team and his brother Manuel’s summer team, but whatever the reason, Perez has decided that he may want to put a career in accounting on hold to finish school and become a high school baseball coach, maybe even a baseball coach at Alice High School someday.
“That would be the dream job for me,” Perez said of maybe one day coaching high school baseball in Alice.
“I know that’s a long way from where I’m at, but even if it never happens, I just want to coach high school baseball. I don’t mind starting at the bottom with a coaching staff and working my way up either. Nothing’s ever been given to me and I don’t expect anything to be given to me now. I just want to coach baseball.”
Perez certainly has a baseball background. After a brilliant high school career here, which included all-state honors, Perez earned a scholarship to play baseball at New Mexico Junior College. He went on to letter two seasons at NMJC. In 2013, he appeared in 42 games for the Lobos and batted .316.
He then earned a spot at St. Mary’s. Perez made a name for himself at St. Mary’s as a junior in 2015. He was one of only two players to start in all of the 57-game season. He also earned All-Conference Second Team honors. Perez was third in the team in batting with a .327 average with 13 doubles, a team-high four triples and one home run and 28 RBIs. Perez scored 50 runs, the second-most on the team, and totaled 93 bases, the third-most on the team. He recorded a .411 slugging and .419 on-base percentage and drew a team-high 24 walks.
He was set for his senior season when it ended even before it began with a break on his hamate bone on his right hand. It was a freak injury that happened during a back swing in practice.
“I was in disbelief,” Perez said. “I’m still in disbelief. It happened before the season began. I thought that I could still play and I tried to play through it. I got shots and did everything I could. I couldn’t (play).”
No one knows for sure what the NCAA will decide. Perez would of course like another season, especially if he gets to play it at TAMUK, just down the road from his hometown and family. However, if the NCAA rules against him, he insists he’s good with that too.
“I’d love to play my senior season,” Perez said. “If it doesn’t happen for me, I’m at peace with it. I’ve had a lot of fun playing baseball. If I get another year, I’m taking it. If I don’t, I'll just finish school and move on.”