MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Javier Perez showed off his throwing arm at Marlins Park on Friday night. He also showed off his considerable emotional strength.
Perez, the principal of South Dade Senior High School, had his legs amputated after being hit by an alleged drunk driver in April while he was on the field at Tamiami Park for his son’s tee-ball game.
For him, returning to a baseball field was the perfect opportunity to show how far he’s come in his recovering, which included 19 surgeries and months in the hospital.
“We felt it was fitting that my first outing to the community would be at a baseball stadium,” he said.
What a moment it was.
The team played a pre-recorded message from Perez just minutes before introducing him to the crowd.
A large ovation erupted as Perez wheeled himself to the field, his wife and kids by his side.
Perez enjoyed his own cheering section, as his friends and supporters unfurled a huge banner with #JaviStrong written on it. He said it was a big moment for him.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” he admitted.
Miami Dade police say Marilyn Aguilera drove drunk, with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit, when she slammed into Perez and pinned him under her car.
Perez’s wife, Maytee, felt the first pitch was a symbolic turning of the page.
“For me, it was like a full circle,” she said. “We finally have closure to the bad stuff and a new beginning.”
They have the well wishes of scores of people, many of whom waited in line to hug Perez at the stadium.
“It’s a miracle,” said Barbara Mendizabal, regional director for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “We care deeply for him. He’s a great principal and a great colleague.”
Longtime friend Carlos Martinez said he helped Perez warm up his arm for the big night.
“He’s a superhero,” Martinez said. “The guy’s a hero, a superman. Super Javi Strong. I can’t say enough about him.”
After enduring so many surgeries and months of rehab, Perez says he’s ready to reclaim his life.
“We’re lucky to be alive and we are alive, let’s get busy living,” he said. “Let’s make a positive out of this.”
There is a fundraising effort for Perez on the GoFundMe website. Perez also says he and his wife are starting a non-profit organization to one day help others in similar situations.
Perez said he’s ready for prosthetics, and the next time he throws out a pitch at Marlins Park he plans to walk to the pitcher’s mound.