SAN FRANCISCO -- Ballplayers endure slumps. Mothers never do. Maritza Perez is proof of the latter.
Giants outfielder Juan Perez smiles broadly, his face exuding pride and affection, as he speaks of the unqualified love that his mother showers upon him.
Maritza Perez's maternal instinct becomes especially sharp when she ponders what Juan does at mealtimes. When the Giants play at home, they have a cook in the clubhouse to prepare special dishes. On the road, they receive enough meal money to sustain them from city to city. Her 27-year-old son has nutritional advice available upon request wherever he goes.
But those basic questions that tug at all mothers' hearts, besides "Are you happy?", still prompt Maritza's concern: What did you eat today? Are you still hungry?
"She always worries about me and how I'm eating," said the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Perez, whose thickly muscled physique puts to rest any doubts about his sustenance. "That's the main thing she worries about, [my] eating right."
While growing up, Perez trained for his profession by immersing himself in baseball as much as possible. He was in the perfect environment for that as a resident of the Bronx, one of New York City's five boroughs. Perez frequently practiced at fields situated literally in the shadows of old Yankee Stadium, believing that he would perform inside that grandest of ballparks someday.
Perez not only fulfilled that dream during an Interleague series late last September, but he also made the experience a memorable one. Last Sept. 22, after the Yankees staged a tremendous pregame farewell to reliever Mariano Rivera, Perez thrilled dozens of relatives and friends watching from the stands by throwing out Robinson Cano at home plate in the eighth inning to preserve San Francisco's 2-1 lead.
But to get there, Perez needed to grow strong. To grow strong, he needed to eat. Maritza made sure he got plenty of what he needed, even after the Giants selected him in the 13th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Perez was too busy practicing baseball as a youth to learn to cook. So once he left home and joined the Giants' Minor League system to toil in places such as Augusta, Ga., and Richmond, Va., Maritza urgently conveyed basic cooking tips to her grateful son. He would not go hungry, even if he were thousands of miles away. The telephone became as invaluable a tool as a spatula, and vice versa.
"She taught me how to cook rice," Perez recalled. "She taught me how to cook beans. Even any kind of meat."
Even if Juan seemed to be developing as much in the kitchen as he was in the outfield, Maritza needed to be sure. She was his mother, and parents worry for a living, like baseball managers. So in 2009, when Juan played for the Giants' Class A Augusta affiliate, Maritza prepared a meal or two or three and drove to North Carolina when the GreenJackets played there.
Not just to see her precious son, but to bring him that delicious food.
To make sure he had enough to eat.
Maritza made similar trips when her son played for Double-A Richmond and the team traveled to New Britain or Trenton, within driving distance of the Bronx.
Maritza also cared about Juan's moral nourishment. She intended to raise an honest son.
Juan's attitude complicated matters.
"When I was little, I was a little hardheaded at school," he said.
Yet whenever something happened, he wanted his mom to get the story straight from him, even if that meant admitting a mistake.
"Whenever I did something wrong, I used to go to her and tell her what I did before the big trouble came in from school -- 'Mom, this is what I did,'" Perez said.
Therefore, Maritza knew that her son was on the right path, the one she had intended for him while she was raising not just Juan, but also his three sisters.
"When I was little," Perez recalled, "she always said I was her little king."