ATHLETE OF THE WEEK Weeehawken hurler De La Cruz simply perfect
“I kept calling him Larry his whole freshman year,” Stratton said.“A lot of people tell me that my name is hard to figure out,” said De La Cruz, a native of the Dominican Republic, who came to the United States six years ago. “It is pretty hard. It’s hard to pronounce. Coach Stratton was the one who had the toughest time trying to pronounce my name.”For the record, Leury is pronounced LAY-OH-VEY. Sure, that’s it.However, in the eyes of Weehawken baseball, Leury De La Cruz’s name is perfect. Simply perfect.Last Friday afternoon, De La Cruz took the mound for Weehawken against Becton Regional in the Autism Awareness Challenge game at Weehawken Stadium.Stratton knew that it was going to be a special day for his senior right-handed pitcher.“It looked like any other day, but it was a little warmer than most days,” Stratton said. “He’s a warm weather pitcher. He hates the cold. I said to him before the game, ‘This is your weather, man.’”De La Cruz confirmed Stratton’s pre-game words.“He said, ‘This is your day, this is your weather,’” De La Cruz said of his coach. “He was right. I liked it. I figured that if I got the first batter every inning, I’d have a good game.”Growing up in the DR, De La Cruz always loved to play baseball, but never thought he would eventually become a pitcher. He envisioned himself as mostly a second baseman.“I never thought I’d be the big pitcher, the big guy,” De La Cruz said. “It was pretty big that I got the chance to pitch this game. I actually wanted to do something special, because it was the Autism Awareness Challenge game.”As the game began and moved on, De La Cruz was actually doing something quite special. He was retiring batter after batter, either by strikeout, pop up or ground out. He was in complete control.“He was throwing strikes,” Stratton said. “He was hitting his spots. He had a great curveball and kept the batters off balance. He had great command of his pitches.”De La Cruz felt it as well.“By the fourth inning, I knew in my mind what was happening,” De La Cruz said.De La Cruz was pitching a perfect game. He had one going last year against Paterson Charter, but lost the chance to dance with perfection with a last inning single.So he knew he didn’t want to lose this one.The fourth inning came and went. Then the fifth inning. Then the sixth.“I was just trying to hit my spots,” De La Cruz said. “It was just confidence. I just had the ability to throw anything for strikes. I just threw whatever the coaches told me to throw and hit the spots.”In the seventh inning, De La Cruz didn’t want to jinx it. But it was hard not to think of the inevitable.“When we got to the last at-bat, I thought, ‘This is kind of happening,’” De La Cruz said. “I wasn’t going to let this guy ruin this.”In fact, De La Cruz didn’t let anyone come close to getting in his way to destiny. He struck out the last batter of the sixth inning and all three batters in the seventh to secure the perfect game.In all, De La Cruz struck out 11, got six batters via pop-ups and retired four more on ground balls. Twenty-one up, 21 down. It was a perfect game and a 3-0 victory for the Indians.For his efforts, De La Cruz has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.Stratton said that he has never had a pitcher fire a perfect game before. Current Texas Rangers minor leaguer Sal Mendez pitched a no-hitter during his days with the Indians, but never recorded a perfect game.When De La Cruz recorded the final strikeout, he just hugged his catcher, Nick Anasa.“I couldn’t believe it,” De La Cruz said. “It’s really incredible.”De La Cruz said that he never aspired to be a pitcher when he was growing up.“I never thought I would become a pitcher,” De La Cruz said. “I never had it in my mind. Never in my dreams did I think I’d pitch a perfect game. It means a lot to me.”De La Cruz is hopeful that his game to remember will catch the eye of a college recruit and De La Cruz will be pitching or playing for a major college someday soon.“That’s what I hope for,” De La Cruz said.“If someone told me that I’d have a kid to throw a perfect game, this would not be the kid to do it,” Stratton said.But Leury De La Cruz, the kid with the weird first name, gets to have his name in the Weehawken record books forever. – Jim Hague ×Weehawken senior pitcher Leury De La Cruz. Leury De La Cruz knows that he has the most unique first name.Some people, like Weehawken High School head baseball coach Anthony Stratton, thought that his name was Larry when he first met De La Cruz a little more than three years ago. Weehawken senior pitcher Leury De La Cruz.