TEMPE, Ariz. -- There's a tight bond that exists among catchers.
It's a special connection that spans generations. It's built on sweat, hard work and the challenges that come with succeeding at one of the toughest positions in the game. It's one of the sport's true brotherhoods.
It's the reason catching prospect Darius Perry looks up to former big league catcher Charles Johnson. It's why Johnson sees himself and the future of the position in Perry and the other young catchers at this week's Dream Series at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
"[Johnson] has talked to me a lot and I'm learning a lot from him," said Perry, 17, who has committed to play collegiately at UCLA. "We've talked about receiving, and just everything about catching and the mentality about it. How to control the pitching and play at the next level."
The Dream Series, which runs in connection with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is an initiative designed to develop the 60 participating pitchers and catchers for a career in baseball. One of its missions is to diversify the future talent pool. It's the perfect platform for Perry, who is considered an elite talent, and the other 16 catchers in this year's camp.
"I've been there before. I know what's ahead of [Perry]," said Johnson, who played almost 1,200 games in 12 big league seasons with the Marlins, Rockies, Orioles, Rays, Dodgers and White Sox. "I understand where he's going. I know what he needs to do to get to the next level. So hopefully I can give some of my knowledge and really help him move to the right direction."
A 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed-hitting catcher from Southern California, Perry has established himself as one of the top high school stars in the state. He also made a name for himself on the national stage with top showcases across the country. He's known for his powerful arm and bat, but he also takes pride in blocking balls and the finer points of defense.
"He's a strong kid, really solid behind the plate, and he's been seeing the ball really well," Johnson said. "He has a great, powerful bat. He also has a big arm. He carries the total package. It's about just putting it all together."
Perry has been catching since he was 11 and he credits his older brother, Andre, a college infielder, as one the biggest influences. The brothers are inspired by the memory of their father Chris Perry, who died when the boys were younger, to fulfill their potential as men and baseball players. Their mother, a former collegiate softball player named Marisa Graham, raised the boys along with their younger sister Kiana and remains a central figure in the family's life.
Perry is smart enough to know there is still a lot to learn.
"Even the guys that have played 15, 20 years tell me they've learned even more stuff now," he said. "I'm just looking for everything I can to try to get better."
That's where Johnson along with fellow instructors and former Major League catchers Gerald Laird, Lenny Webster and Darrell Miller step in. It's their goal this week to help the teens succeed at the next level, whether that's in high school, college or professional baseball. The trio would also like to see a more diverse pool of catchers at every level of the game.
"If you watch TV, there's not very many African-American catchers that are catching in the big leagues," Johnson said. "So, for them to really have a chance to be next to two big league ballplayers like me and [Webster] to give them the knowledge that we've had over the years, I think it means a great deal to them."
The event, which concludes on Monday, has also provided the participants information on baseball career opportunities and daily presentations from former Major Leaguers, scouts, and college administrators.
"I think Darius has a chance to impact our game in a significant way long term," Major League Baseball executive vice president of baseball and softball development Tony Reagins said. "He has a good work ethic. A lot of times, those are the little things that set you apart from the next guy. In Mr. Perry, I think there's a lot to get excited about."