Joe Park

Gahr shortstop Joe Park wasn't allowed to play baseball until he was 12. (Bryan Chan / LAT)

Joe Park, an All-Southern Section infielder at Cerritos Gahr, has displayed extraordinary perseverance while maintaining absolute loyalty to his parents, who kept denying his repeated pleas to play organized baseball.

Park's story is about a boy born in the United States to parents who immigrated from Korea and the culture clash he endured to play the game he came to love.

From age 6 to 12, he asked his father, Kyung, if he could play baseball. The answer was always the same.

"I say no," Kyung said. "We have to go to church on Sunday."

Park was left in baseball limbo. Spring would come, he'd watch Dodgers and Angels games on television, and seemingly every week bring up his request, "Can I play on a baseball team?"

Despite each denial, Park never threw a tantrum, never rebelled and never disobeyed his father.

"Sometimes he'd cry inside," his father recalled. "He never cried in his face."

Park found a way to learn the game the old-fashioned way — teaching himself by playing with friends.

Living in a Garden Grove apartment complex, he and close to a dozen other boys would hit tennis balls in a quad-like area and have home-run contests. The balls had to clear a garage.

"Everybody wanted to be like Roger Clemens, throwing 90 mph," he said. "We'd hit windows, run and hide."

He'd practice catching ground balls by throwing tennis balls off a wall.

It wasn't as if his dad didn't like baseball. He watched games on television and took his son to major league games.

But both parents were afraid their son would lose focus on church and academics.

"He knew if I played in an organized league, I'd have to commit my time and make sacrifices," Park said. "He didn't approve."

Park said his father regretted placing too much importance on sports when he was going to school in Korea and he lost out on obtaining a better education.

As for his mother, Park said, "My mom wants me to hit the books, go to college for academics. My mom is always thinking, 'If you don't study, you won't have a successful future.' "

When Park reached 10, he followed a friend to a baseball game in San Clemente, and his father had to pick him up. When Kyung saw his son as the lone boy sitting in the stands, not playing, it deeply affected him.

He gave in a little, saying his son could play but still had to wait a few years.

"I was so excited I went to the bookstore and bought 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baseball,' " Park said.