The universe has a way of bringing together unexpected pairs.
For two Forsyth County graduates turned University of North Georgia baseball players, the past five years have provided few moments to separate Andres Perez and Parker Morrison.
“We’ve definitely seen highs and lows throughout the five years,” said Perez, who graduated from Pinecrest Academy. “Living together, we can’t escape it either. Aside from baseball, we study the same thing so we’ve had classes together too. Everything we do is together. And it’s always competitive. We also want to one-up each other.”
The duo first met in 2016 during orientation, and the two were coincidentally paired as roommates. Morrison, who graduated from Forsyth Centrla, said when he first saw the 6-foot-7 Perez, he questioned whether North Georgia was where he was supposed to be.
“First thing I thought when I saw Andres was, ‘Dang ... I really don’t fit in here,’ Morrison said. “Getting to know him and learning the nice, cute, loveable big ol' soft teddy bear of a man that he is fixed it all. And it didn’t take very long to notice that.”
Immediately, Morrison and Perez connected and became friends. They decided to room together their freshman year. Morrison said his coaches at Central always held him to the same standards he himself held.
Perez’s time at Pinecrest was focused more on getting recruited. He decided not to join the Atlanta Braves after being drafted in the 36th round in the 2016 draft to go to North Georgia. In his freshman year, he earned the starting catcher slot while Morrison redshirted.
“Redshirting was actually pretty good for me.” Morrison said. “I got more innings just from friendly competition between ourselves than I would’ve been on the roster. It let me see what playing college baseball takes, and I didn’t have to use up a year of eligibility to do it. So when I came in the next year, I came in with strong success.”
The 2017 season ended as North Georgia’s most successful season in program history, going to the NCAA Division II College World Series for the first time ever. Though Perez did not see much success at the plate, he said the season taught him a lot about college baseball, and he felt bad talking about the games around Morrison, who was not playing.
“It was weird at first,” Perez said. “Obviously, you don’t go somewhere to prepare not to play. Sometimes I would feel bad about bringing stuff up about the games, because I want to have a soft spot for them and not try to gloat or impact them mentally.”
In 2018, Morrison and Perez connected on the field for the first time and both had great success. Morrison led the Nighthawks' pitching staff with a 2.01 ERA and 62 strikeouts, despite pitching the fourth-most innings.
“I really have no need to shake him off that much,” Morrison said. “Hopefully, that would be the case after being here for so long. He knows in certain situations that I would want to throw this. When I do, it normally ends up bad. He calls a great game.”
Perez set the Nighthawks' home run record in a single season with 23 and was poised for another fantastic junior season. He was named on the preseason All-Peach Belt team and a preseason Division II All-American.
However, a torn rotator cuff sidelined Perez for the entire 2019 season.
“You never want to see anybody get hurt, but he really didn’t complain about it,” Perez said. “Helping him out with different small things. Just wanted to be a close friend to see him come back and be healthy.”
Perez sat in the dugout as the Nighthawks’ biggest cheerleader as they won their third Peach Belt Conference title in five years. In that season, Perez said he learned more about being a teammate than he ever had before.
“At first it was tough, because I felt sorry for myself and I wanted the pity that people were trying to give me,” Perez said. “I quickly realized that what was best for me was not getting any pity. It was fun to be a part of that and get to grow as a teammate and also as a friend. It reminded me that my role is bigger than just on the field.”
The Nighthawks only played 19 games before the 2020 season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though this year is the fifth season the teammates have been on the team together, it will only be the second full season that they have played together.
Perez has already hit 11 home runs through the first 29 games of the season. Morrison has moved from the closer to the starter role this season and has 64 strikeouts through 52 2/3 innings.
After this season, both said that they were unsure whether the Major League Baseball draft would affect their future baseball plans. However, one thing was certain; the five years of living together will come to an end.
“I mentioned living with each other after school a couple months ago, but Andres shot that down real fast,” Morrison said.
Perez responded that five years was plenty and needed one year away from Morrison to “relax.”
The friendship has lasted throughout the entirety of the duo’s collegiate career, and Perez credited that to their polar opposite personalities.
“I had never been around someone like him before,” Perez said. “The best way to put it is that he’s not scared to say anything, and not necessarily in a bad way. If he sees something, he’s gonna call you out for it ... keeps me accountable.”
Morrison chuckled and said that Perez keeps him accountable too, just not as intensely as Morrison assumed he might.
Though it may seem on the outside that the pair has accomplished everything they wanted together in their five years, winning a conference championship on the field together is something they still have not done. Both agreed it was their final goal as a Nighthawk.
The Peach Belt Conference Championship will begin May 14 for the Nighthawks, if the team earns a berth. Just a little over a month until a much-needed five-year break.