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."