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Volume 77, Number 4 | June 27 - July 3, 2007

Sports

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Coach Francisco Perez with campgoers on Pier 40.

P3 baseball coach mixes fun with the fundamentals

by Lucas Mann

As another summer of baseball action kicks off at Pier 40, Francisco Perez begins his second summer in complete control of baseball operations at P3, after years working his way up the ranks. It is impossible to call Perez a novice, though. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a more experienced youth baseball coach.

His track record from all over New York City suggests that he has left no baseball stone unturned. He started as a coach at Joe Espinosa’s after-school program on the Upper West Side and has been bringing success to every program he has touched since then.

“What Francisco brings, aside from his obvious baseball knowledge, is a special Dominican culture of baseball,” said Tobi Bergman, president of Pier Park and Playground Association, or P3, which runs the Pier 40 baseball camp. “We don’t usually get to experience that baseball culture in a direct way, we just watch on TV. That is what makes the camp so special right now.”

Certainly, Perez comes from a baseball world. He grew up playing the sport and his credentials speak for themselves: He played junior college ball in Texas, played in the Seattle Mariners farm system, and even attended the New York Yankees’ spring training in 1995. His ability and confidence around a baseball diamond is easy to see, even in the way he lopes around the field, showing kids technique. It also comes across in the results he has brought to other programs.

“Francisco has put our program in a premier spot in the Ivy Leagues [a New York City private school athletic conference],” said Seth Lieberman, associate director of athletics at the Trinity School, whose varsity team Perez coaches. “We have won our league two out of the last three years, and we won the Independent School State Championship two years ago.”

Trinity’s baseball team was not bad before Perez arrived seven years ago, but the dominance and the state championship that he brought in such a short time were completely new levels of success for the Upper West Side school.

Perez has also helped in the success of the New York Gothams baseball organization, a travel team that has sent many players on to college scholarships and even the Major League Baseball draft.

Geoff Rich, co-founder of the Gothams, did not emphasize Perez’s success, but rather his approach to coaching.

He’s got skills passed down from great coaches, but he has his own unique way of communicating the fun of the game,” Rich said. “He has an enthusiasm that is contagious and works hard to get the most out of kids. Francisco understands that players have limitations and works to make them the best within those limitations.”

Perez says he’s more concerned with helping the kids at P3 enjoy playing, rather than helping them become pros.

“The main thing is to make sure the kids have fun while learning the game,” he said. “This is their vacation, and the last thing you want to do is have some kind of boot camp.”

Perez talked while surveying Pier 40’s four diamonds that he now runs. He is a soft-spoken man, who seemed endlessly calm as he reminded some of his youngest players that swinging bats when not in the on-deck circle or at the plate was probably not a good idea.

“I want to keep doing what we’re doing here, which is helping kids enjoy their baseball life,” he said. “Playing baseball is a dream. It’s like winning the lottery.”

Helping the young ball players achieve that dream are a staff of coaches that Perez has assembled whom he has either played with, coached with or coached for in his citywide baseball tenure. They are a diverse group, current and former baseball stars from all over the city. Some of the younger counselors-in-training are Greenwich Village kids whom Perez has seen come up through the program. Seven of the coaches have had either college or minor league baseball experience and bring a passion for the game that rivals that of Perez.

“This is the best way for guys to continue being a part of what they love and passing that skill on to other people,” Perez said. Included in that group is his own brother, Melvin, once a standout shortstop for the baseball powerhouse George Washington High School in Washington Heights. Like his big brother, Melvin was also, at one point in his career, selected in the M.L.B. draft.

Perez smiled as he looked out over the crop of the year’s first young campers, dashing around in gloves and hats that seemed to dwarf them. While his goal is for them to have the best summer possible, watching them succeed is always satisfying.

“I see more Greenwich Village kids going out there and playing competitive ball with different organizations,” he said proudly, “and they’re going to high school and being able to compete well for spots.”

The difference in skill level was evidenced even in the short Greenwich Village Little League playoffs this year, when over-the-fence home runs — once a blue-moon occasion at J.J. Walker Field — were a common deciding factor in games. David Heffner, who rocked the G.V.L.L. world with his walk-off, championship-winning home run, is, like many of his peers, a regular at P3’s Pier 40 baseball camp.

“People sometimes distinguish between having fun and getting good,” said P3 President Bergman. “But the better you get, the more fun you are able to have. Being competitive is not the overall goal, but a lot of kids have improved because of their experiences at Pier 40.”

Sitting in the bleachers of his fields, Perez looked forward to what he hopes is a long career at Pier 40.

“I like it here,” he said with a smile. “Baseball is my love and I would not want to be doing anything else. It is so much fun to see a kid grow out on the field. That’s what it is about: the kids.”


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