As the rest of the Orioles filtered off the airplane with sleep-bleary eyes at the end of a season-opening two-city road trip, right-hander Bryan Baker wondered what was wrong — or right — with left-hander Cionel Pérez.

“He’s all bouncing,” Baker recalled.

They had just landed in Baltimore from Dallas on Thursday night. They had spent the last week on the road, playing six games after breaking camp and heading north from Florida. And yet the fatigue that afflicted his teammates didn’t translate to Pérez, who walked off the plane full of energy.

That’s because Pérez’s view of the Orioles’ flight home from Dallas was different than any of his teammates. He sat in the cockpit rather than in coach, watching as pilots Jeff Jeskie and Chad Dugie navigated the skies.

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Pérez hoped for the opportunity since last season. With many of the same flight attendants on their team flights, he began inquiring about the possibility of riding shotgun with the pilots. The dream came true last week.

“I have seen movies with pilots and things like that, so something like that, the curiosity kicks in,” Pérez said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones. “I’ve always been interested in seeing how things work, especially something that big and that important.”

Cionel Pérez (58) poses for a portrait during photo day at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota on Feb. 23, 2023. The Baltimore Orioles’ spring training session runs from mid-February through the end of March. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

There’s a third seat in the cockpit, behind Jeskie and Dugie and a full panel of controls, that Pérez made his own. He could’ve left the cockpit and returned to his teammates, but Pérez had no interest in any other view.

“I didn’t want to go back to my seat,” Pérez said.

Throughout the flight, which lasted more than two hours, Jeskie and Dugie peppered Pérez with baseball questions. As fans of the sport, they took advantage of having a major league player sitting in their cockpit.

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But Pérez threw as many questions back at them, all about aviation and how they fly a plane safely. The most intriguing part of the flight was the landing, when the nose of the plane tipped down and he could see the runway straight ahead of them before leveling out.

“It almost looked like the plan was going to crash headfirst into the ground. I think what they do is really important and it’s really impressive how they do it,” Pérez said. “I wasn’t really too nervous. I felt pretty safe and secure, because those pilots are obviously trained and experienced and some of them have flown in the armed forces before. I was a little nervous, but nothing too crazy, and I felt sure everything was going to be fine.”

When left-hander Cole Irvin found out Pérez had experienced a flight in the cockpit, he wanted to get the chance himself — but only on a short-haul flight, perhaps like next month’s trip from Toronto to New York.

Pérez doesn’t anticipate his presence in the cockpit becoming a regular occurrence, though. He loved the experience, took photos and videos and held on tight during takeoff and landing, but once might be enough.

“Maybe toward the end of the season, who knows if I’ll do it again?” Pérez said. “But it was a nice one-time experience, and it’s nice to give them their own space to work and do their job, but it was a really nice experience overall.”

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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