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Rick Perez, Baseball Standout, Dies at 20

July 14, 1994|DAVID A. AVILA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The former coach of a college baseball star who died in a recent hiking accident remembers Rick Perez as one of his surprises, a youth the coach at first thought lacked talent but who proved him wrong.

"We didn't have the guts to tell him he couldn't be on the team, and instead he ended up being one of our all-stars," said Ken Weldon at Perez's funeral Saturday. Weldon coaches a Babe Ruth baseball team in the San Gabriel Valley named the El Monte Dukes, which Perez joined in 1991.

Perez, 20, a former student at El Monte High, died July 2 when he fell off a trail while hiking with a friend in Angeles National Forest.

He was a standout baseball player this year at Upper Iowa University in Fayette, Iowa, where he played outfield and set several batting records. He was also a star outfielder for East Los Angeles College and had plans to become a police officer in his hometown after his baseball career.

"He was an overachiever," said Weldon, an El Monte Police officer. "By the time we realized how special he really was, he was gone."

Weldon and others said Perez was continuously misjudged by his peers and instructors. Eventually, through persistence and hard work, he persuaded others to judge him again in school and sports.

"He never spoke much on the field," said Mando Santa Anna, a teammate of Perez's at both East Los Angeles College and in high school. "He led by example."

At Upper Iowa University, Perez broke the all-time record for hits in a season with 57, a spokeswoman said. He also had a .401 batting average and was selected for the all-regional team comprising the best players in the conference.

Academics was a secondary goal until he attended the tiny, 100-year-old Iowa-based university. He was a psychology major and had above-average grades.

"He called me from Iowa to tell me he had finally decided on a major," said Al Cone, his baseball coach at East Los Angeles College. "He was very happy and his grades were good."

Perez is survived by his younger brother and parents, who live in El Monte.

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