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Fathers coach their sons in Little League. Then their son moves on and so do they. It's a ritual as old as the organization itself (founded 1939). Makes sense. It can't be near as much fun coaching someone else's kids, kids you don't know, kids you never even met. Right? And then you hear about John Perry and you are dumbstruck into silence.

Perry, 61, has been coaching the Westside A's for 40 years.

Perry will coach his 1,000th Little League game May 30.

Perry is childless.

You now will be given a moment to recuperate from those last three paragraphs.

One thousand Little League baseball games. Repeat that sentence fragment again, and again, and again. It becomes more impactive, thicker with history, each time you say it. One thousand Little League games over five decades. And 212 players and none of them were Perry's.

"It's about the kids. It's always been about the kids," Perry said.

Now it's about Perry. The Oakland A's asked Perry to throw out the first pitch before their April 29 game against Baltimore. Sure, Perry said, I'll do it, but I have to have my kids out there on the field with me. Wouldn't want it any other way, the A's replied.

If a Major League Baseball team knows of Perry, would anyone outside the region? I was on the phone Friday with Chris Downs, spokesman for International Little League in Williamsport, Pa. I identified myself and ... that's as far as I got.

"John Perry is a remarkable example of what Little League is all about," Downs said. "To teach values that can be carried into adulthood, to do that for all those years, to be a volunteer all that time, it's a testament to his love of the game and the kids."

"But I never mentioned John's name," I said.

"John has been on our radar for a while," said Downs, in his ninth year with Little League. "As far as I know, no one I am aware of has managed 1,000 Little League games. He is unique."

Unique only begins the description of what's behind all those years, games and kids. If the past 40 years were just about baseball for Perry, he would have been gone a long time ago. Let's face it, the thrill of giving the bunt sign to a 10-year-old can only take you so far. It was never just a game to Perry. Perry used baseball as an instructional manual, not so much as how to play but how his players should present themselves to the world.

Randomly he will ask, "How many of you thanked your parents today for giving you a ride to the game?" By the end of each season the boys write their parents, thanking them for their transportation. Each year just before Mother's Day his players go to Perry's front yard, clip roses from his bushes and then give them to their mothers. His players remove their hats when he speaks to them. His players are responsible for the equipment Perry loans them.

"If a player loses a jacket," Perry said, "the player pays me back. He doesn't ask his parents for money. I'll wait. I just had a player give me the $50 for a jacket he lost. He took a year and half before he saved up enough money. No problem. I'll wait 10 years if that's what it takes."

When he hands out uniforms every year, he gives it to the kids on hangers.

"When I was in Little League," said Perry, a 1970 El Molino graduate, "the day they gave out uniforms the coach just threw them at us. I thought that was disrespectful to the uniform. So I hand them out with hangers and, you know what? I get most of them back with hangers."

Back in the day Perry would instruct players how to wear the uniform. Not anymore.

"My 12-year-olds teach the younger ones how to dress," said Perry, who has a 592-393 career record.

His kids don't wear their pants down to their ankles. They wear stirrups as big league players once did, with a white sock showing under a colored stirrup.

"I don't want my kids," Perry said, "to look like they are wearing pajamas."

Perry tells his players they should go out there and have fun.

"I tell them they are having the best time of their life, and they don't even know it," Perry said. "When they want food, it's in the refrigerator. When they get to be adults, food doesn't just show up in the fridge. They have to go out and make money to buy it."

Perry only has two rules. Play hard and go to practice.

"Everyone plays three innings unless they miss practice," Perry said. "Then I can't guarantee anything."

Before each season Perry hands out a baseball test to each player. It's five pages, 71 questions and is graded.

"I bet some of my players know more about how to play the game," Perry said, "than some high school kids."

The league provides the hats, the kids own their cleats and gloves. Perry provides everything else: a practice hat, practice pants, two sets of game jerseys, catching gear and bats. He bought three pitching machines. He has $1,800 worth of bats in his garage that can't be used, victim to ever-changing Little League safety rules.

"I don't think about it," said Perry when asked how much he has spent on his Little League team in 40 years.

Money has never been the issue with him. Relationships are. At Christmas each year, each player gets a gift.

The first-year player receives a statue Perry has painted of them. "I send out a questionnaire asking them the color of their hair, their eyes. They have no idea what that's about. I paint their faces and arms with a color as close as I can to their skin color. I try to make the statue look as much like them as I can."

The second-year player receives a miniature statue of a baseball glove with the player's name and year that he played.

The third-year player receives a clock radio with his name and statistics for his three years on the A's.

Perry's generosity doesn't stop there. He's driven 10 times to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. On his way, Perry stopped at Dyersville, Iowa, to visit The Field of Dreams, site of the popular baseball movie. From there Perry mailed his players in Santa Rosa packets of corn from the corn fields and dirt from the infield.

His largesse has not gone unnoticed. On a hallway wall in his west side house hangs a 4-by-4-foot handmade quilt comprising 63 squares. Most of them are filled with pictures, player signatures and well-wishes. The center of the quilt catches the eye: It's an emotive thank you from Brett Callan's family. Callan played for Perry and was one of his favorite players. Callan was killed in an automobile accident in 2004. A copy of Callan's uniform hangs in Perry's house.

"When my 12-year-olds leave," Perry said, "I know they'll be driving soon. So I give them this key chain."

It has Brett Callan's name on it and a reminder to drive safely.

It should be apparent by now that John Perry has never been just a baseball coach.

"It's an honor for me to say that I played for and against John," said Sonoma County supervisor Efren Carrillo, who was in the Westside Little League from 1991-93 and played on Perry's All-Star teams. "His commitment to the players is totally unmatched. He still is a valued mentor to me. His emphasis on personal responsibility, self-determination, a strong work ethic, that influences me still to this day."

Sometime before May 30, Carrillo will introduce to his fellow county board members a resolution to honor Perry. That idea might gain more steam once they learn what Perry sacrificed. In February 2009, Perry was laid off at JDSU, a local optical company. He remained unemployed until August 2012. He did have employment offers.

"But then I couldn't coach Little League," said Perry, those day jobs not allowing his afternoons free. While at JDSU Perry had the perfect Little League schedule. He would go to work as a production worker at 8 p.m. and knock off at 5 a.m. He would go to sleep, wake up at 1 p.m., take care of the A's and go back to work the next night.

So Perry refused jobs. He rented a room in his house to boarders. He was frugal. Money was shrinking. And he waited, hoping for another graveyard shift to come into his life. He never missed a game. Never missed a practice. Never whined about it. Working as a kid on his father's dairy farm in Occidental taught him that.

Last August JDSU re-hired Perry in custom glass display. He was back on graveyard. He was back in his greased groove.

"You know, I've had some bad times," Perry said. "But when I'm on that field with the kids, the sun is shining, you can smell the grass, I never have had a bad time. Over the years the kids have done so much for me."

And now, John, on May 30, it will be time to return the favor.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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