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Local professional athletes give back to area

When athletes make it to the professional ranks, sometimes they forget where they came from.

Yet other times they remember.

In Manatee County, both baseball and football stars haven’t lost sight of where they cut their teeth in the sports that currently pay them so handsomely for their athletic prowess.

Chris Perez is one such example.

The Cleveland Indians set-up man is from the area.

Major League Baseball is a 162 games, and a few more if you get all the way to the World Series.

So you wouldn’t fault a big leaguer for focusing on his career.

But Perez donated four bats and batting gloves for every kid on the Manatee West juniors team that currently is heading to the Section IV tournament at Bloomingdale Little League this weekend.

He even helped the team to come visit the Trop during the Indians recent road series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Perez used to play ball at G.T. Bray, and him giving back should be commended in this high-tech age of “show me the money” attitudes in pro athletes.

“The past two seasons he’s donated bats and gloves for the team,” said Tim Perez, who coaches the West juniors all-star team.

It isn’t just baseball where the professionals are giving back to the community to where it all began.

Look at the Cornerback Connection.

Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie finished his high school playing days at Lakewood Ranch.

Mike Jenkins was a standout at Southeast.

And Fabian Washington at Bayshore.

The trio are giving back.

Already, they’ve had a celebrity slam jam, donated food to families in need during Thanksgiving and have hosted a youth football camp.

Not bad for three NFL cornerbacks who endure the physically demanding football season.

This past weekend, Washington and Jenkins helped launch the Pride Park Packers — a youth football team.

The aim is to help keep kids off the streets, said YMCA youth intervention specialist Jerry Parrish.

Having NFL players at the helm certainly helps.

“They’re really influential, because the kids see them making it to the upper echelon,” Parrish said.

The team joins the Bradenton Buccaneers, Lakewood Ranch Colts and North River Steelers in a four-team tackle football league that will play at Manatee High’s soccer fields, Parrish said.

And there will be several age divisions ranging within 8-14-year-olds.

And it’s thanks to some high-profile athletes who call Manatee County home that youth sports and the community are being helped out when they could be carrying on without giving back.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017.