Mom, son reflect on bond as quarantine throws curveball to their respective teams
(Emily Dembinski/Daily Bruin)
By Taiyo Keilin
May 4, 2020 3:30 p.m.
Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez can still remember the moment her son took his first steps.
Her son – Mikey Perez – was just a toddler, traveling with his mother and the UCLA softball team in Oklahoma City when he walked for the first time in a hotel room, with the whole team surrounding him.
“All (of my mom’s) players, I still know them today,” Perez said. “And I always hear the good old, ‘You were so small last time I saw you.’ So it’s nice to have those connections in her softball world, even today.”
Thanks to his mother’s position as a coach for UCLA softball since 1994, Perez grew up around the program, constantly exposed to the sport and the team. For Inouye-Perez, that meant it was never hard to come by a babysitter on the road – she had around 20 players who were more than happy to watch her son.
But for the now-UCLA baseball sophomore infielder, his relationship with his mother instilled a passion for both baseball and softball, and a love for the Bruins that would guide him to be the player he is today.
“Just being around the school for so long, it’s always been a dream to come and play baseball here,” Perez said.
Perez was born into an athletic family. His father, Gerardo Perez, played college baseball at Loyola Marymount and now coaches the baseball team at Gahr High School – Mikey Perez’s alma mater – in Cerritos, California. Mikey Perez’s mother has won eight national championships with UCLA softball – three as a player, three as an assistant coach and two as the head coach.
But Inouye-Perez was one decision away from never winning her last four titles.
When Perez was born in 2000, Inouye-Perez was in her seventh year as an assistant coach for the Bruins’ softball team. She was prepared to step down from her role to commit herself to raising Perez, but then-head coach Sue Enquist convinced her not to.
“I knew the commitment to the program,” Inouye-Perez said. “I told coach Enquist that I think it would be best for me to head in a different direction and she said just the opposite. She said, ‘No way, we can put a playpen in the bullpen, we’ll do whatever you need.’ So it was really encouraging to do both.”
Growing up with two coaches in the family, there was plenty of athletic wisdom to be passed on. However, Inouye-Perez said she always made a devotion to herself and to her son.
She was going to be a mom to him and a coach to her players.
“(My parents) have always done a great job of not being overwhelming with overcoaching,” Perez said. “They definitely do a great job of making sure to separate being a coach and being a parent, and knowing when to be one or the other.”
But with Inouye-Perez’s natural coaching instincts, the line between mom and coach did almost get blurred every now and then.
“There was a moment one time when my husband wanted me to get on (Perez) for something,” Inouye-Perez said. “And I did with kind of a coach-y tone, and I’ll never forget the look on his face – just, ‘Wait, what?’ And then I made a decision. I didn’t want to be in that role, I didn’t want to be his coach. I was always his mom.”
When it came time for Perez to be recruited for college ball, it was another new experience for Inouye-Perez. She had gone through recruitment herself as a player, and now she did it on a yearly basis as the head coach of the winningest collegiate softball program in the nation.
This time around, she would be experiencing recruitment as a parent.
For Perez, he said the decision to commit to UCLA upon his graduation from high school was easy. He had grown up roughly 35 miles from UCLA, attending baseball games and softball games alike in the hills of Westwood – his whole word was in Southern California, and he said he knew he wanted to stay close to home.
UCLA baseball coach John Savage said he knew that having two coaches for parents and frequently being around the environment of a strong collegiate athletic program were good building blocks for a player like Perez.
“You’re talking about him growing up in a very competitive atmosphere, growing up going to UCLA softball and baseball games and really growing up a Bruin,” Savage said. “He checks a lot of boxes when you talk about personality, talent and love for the school. He knows what it takes to be a Bruin.”
Once Perez made it to UCLA, the dynamic with his parents changed. In high school, he spent the majority of his time with his dad, being on the same campus and team. In college, the roles flipped and Perez said he sees his mom much more than his dad.
While the run-ins aren’t frequent, Perez and Inouye-Perez are both grateful for the moments they have together.
“When I do have some downtime, when I don’t have classes certain days, we’re able to go into Westwood and get some breakfast, which is always nice,” Perez said. “My roommates and I, and some of the other baseball guys, will try to go over to (Easton) Stadium and support (the softball team). It’s also good for me to catch up with the people that have helped me grow up in the softball world.”
Similarly, when Inouye-Perez finds time in her schedule, she said she has always taken the opportunity to see her son in action as a Bruin.
After UCLA softball had mercy-ruled Cal Poly on March 8, Inouye-Perez told the team she had to shorten the postgame festivities so she could rush across town to Dedeaux Field, where UCLA baseball was taking on USC in the Southern California College Baseball Classic.
In what would ultimately be UCLA’s final game of the season, Mikey Perez made his ninth start of 2020 and racked up a career-high three hits in the Bruins’ 15-3 win over the Trojans.
“She definitely must have brought some good luck or something,” Perez said. “It was good that I was able to have a decent performance in front of her. That was really nice to see her there.”
Since the end of their respective seasons and the announcement of the stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus, Perez said he’s taken up cooking – preparing for life in off-campus apartments next year. The sophomore sometimes makes meals for the whole family, with his favorite dish being spareribs, a recipe passed down from his mother’s side.
But Perez’s new adventures in the kitchen aren’t the only way he and his mom have connected while quarantined. The two said they like to watch Netflix and go on masked bike rides together.
“(Staying at home has) definitely been a bit of change,” Perez said. “It’s nice just to get that family time that we don’t usually have, (with) everybody out and about, busy with seasons of their own.”
When the measures are lifted and quarantine comes to an end, the Perez household will be able to return to their normal, busy lives.
Until then, Perez and his mom are at home, as a family.
“Coach” Kelly Inouye-Perez to many but just “Mom” to Mikey.