By Rich Mancuso
BRONX, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 20- Picture two ballplayers from the Bronx on the baseball diamond and in opposite dugouts. Both are all-city stars and dreaming of the day when they could be a part of a Major league Baseball franchise. It can happen, and with the San Francisco Giants it is a reality.
Thursday afternoon at Citi Field, after the Giants 2-1 series finale win over the New York Mets, Juan Perez and Johnny Monell were in the visitor’s clubhouse packing their bags for their next series. A trip across the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to the Bronx and a meeting with the New York Yankees is also a part of the reality.
Yes, Yankee Stadium, the venue where every ballplayer from the Bronx hopes to be one day. Just like a fighter who dreams of fighting at the “Meca” known as Madison Square Garden.
Perez played high school ball at Dewitt Clinton, and Monell a few minutes away at Christopher Columbus. They opposed each other more than once in PSAL league games and were eventually drafted as first round picks by the Giants.
It is a story of success and a chapter taking place in two big league ballparks this week, Citi Field and Yankee Stadium. It is the first time the Giants are playing two New York teams in the same week.
But it used to be that way all the time. Back in the old days when the Giants were a New York team, they played the Yankees and Dodgers all the time in New York at the Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field and Yankee Stadium. Perez and Monell were not around to see that, but they have heard the stories.
Now they have their own story. It is success and they can share that with family, friends and the kids of New York City who play on the same baseball fields that they once occupied.
“This has been awesome, something I always thought about,” said Perez who started in left field Thursday afternoon and batted seventh in the lineup of manager Bruce Bochy.
Perez did not disappoint the many family and friends that were in the Citi Field crowd of 22,897. He had a career high three hits for the Giants, walked, and drove in a run. A majority cheered, obvious rooting for the Giants with orange shirts and jerseys.
Monell came off the bench Wednesday night. In the series at Citi Field, he went hitless in two at bats. Before their major home coming against the Yankees, three games in the Bronx beginning Friday night, Monell was getting ready for an annual rookie ritual, something all teams do on the big league level to their rookies in September.
It was another script, this time wearing outfits as “Naked Cowboys” and walking out of the Giants’ clubhouse with other rookies, and wearing similar gear that had nothing to do with baseball.
They were now in the big leagues, and loving every minute of it. Perez, the 26-year old who came to the Bronx from Santiago, Dominican Republic was a 13th round draft pick of the Giants in 2008. That year, at Western Oklahoma Junior College, he hit .465 with 37 home runs and knocked in 102 runs.
“We will play him more and get him a start against the Yankees,” said Bochy. That certainly will make his parents, family and friends proud. Perez said he does not know how he will handle the demand for tickets. Yankee Stadium is home and more so than Citi Field.
On this final road trip of the season for the Giants, Perez is staying with his wife, daughter and sister in the University Heights section of the Bronx, a few minutes from the Stadium.
But the ticket demand will be easy. Ballplayers, even from the inner city have a way of handling the pressure. After all, getting to the big leagues requires adjustment and has its share of pressure that is more demanding.
“It has been a major adjustment for me,” said Perez. “Getting here, different pitching, and not making many mistakes… It has been amazing,” he said about the five year journey to get where he is now.
But more amazing is the script, and how his teammate Monell is sharing the same experience. How they will have a similar homecoming in the Bronx makes this a better story. When asked, Bochy would not commit to having both of his rookies on the field at the same time in the Bronx.
Monell, the 27-year old left- handed hitter was also a teammate with Perez last year at double-A Richmond where he led the club with a .449 slugging percentage. He tied Perez for the most home runs with 11.
The script and amazing journey will resume in the Bronx tomorrow night. And, more importantly Perez, Monell, and the Giants may have a major impact as to the Yankees post season chances.
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