Maritza Feliciano has been even more of a super hero since getting her Dayton Dragons jersey.
Her saga began back in March of 2019.
Her son was in his first spring training with the Cincinnati Reds organization after being a 13th-round draft pick out of Miami Dade College the previous June and being assigned to the Rookie level Greeneville (Tennessee) Reds for that summer.
In 2019, after completing extended spring training in Arizona, he was sent to the Dragons in May.
By then, Feliciano was dealing with an ordeal that was becoming more threatening as the months went by.
In early March, she had attributed the headaches, nausea and vomiting she was experiencing to the vertigo she’d dealt with for years.
Her job in health care was stressful, she said, and she figured that was exacerbating her condition.
But she also was experiencing deteriorating vision and then came a trip to the emergency room which was followed by an MRI.
“They found a brain tumor and it took off from there,” she said Monday. “I couldn’t tell Brian. We’re very close and I didn’t want to hurt him with his baseball. He was just starting.”
Brian Rey, when he played with the Dayton Dragons in 2019, with his mom, Maritza Feliciano. CONTRIBUTED
Finally, though, it became evident she needed surgery.
“The tumor was growing and it was going to block off some of the flow in my head,” she said. “I was told if it exploded, you die immediately.”
She and her husband, Orlando Rey, had kept her condition from their three sons for almost four months, but finally, four days before her surgery – on July 8 – she knew she had to say something.
“I’d thought about it and how, if something happened during the surgery, I hadn’t given them the opportunity to know beforehand,” she said. “Brian was definitely alarmed, but he kept his cool and went to share the information with the organization.
“And I can tell you this. Right then, we saw what an amazing organization the Cincinnati Reds are.
“Brian had requested a few days off to come see me right after my surgery and they said: ‘No, we don’t feel comfortable with you being up here now. We want you down there with your mom.’
“And they immediately got him a flight so he could be with me a couple days before the surgery. That was just absolutely amazing.”
The surgery was successful and the tumor was not cancerous, she said.
But she still ended up in tears.
“The Dragons are amazing,” Brian said. “They sent her a signed jersey and flowers.”
“The entire team signed the jersey,” Maritza added. “To think they brought all those players together to do that. It was sooooo nice. That tells you something about the Dragons, too.”
The whole ordeal tells you something about his mom as well, Brian said:
“With God’s help, she’s carried the load on her back. My mom is the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She’s been my rock since day one.”
Last October, Maritza said she went back to her neurologist, who told her she was doing so well she wouldn’t need to come back for two years.
This was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that turned everyone’s life upside down and had canceled minor league baseball for the 2020 season.
This year, the Dayton Dragons were upgraded to a High-A team, and that’s made his return trip more of a treat, Brian said:
“To be back in Dayton is pretty special to me. Dayton has a lot of good memories for my family.”
Dayton Dragons Brian Rey (far right), with his mother, Maritza Feliciano, father, Orlando Rey and hiis younger brother Brandon. CONTRIBUTED
‘Party in a box’
Maritza and Orlando both were born in Puerto Rico, but ended up living in Chicago. That’s where they met and married.
Eventually, they moved to Deltona, Florida, between the cities of Orlando and Daytona Beach.
She said their three sons all have different personalities.
After serving in the military, Jonathan, the oldest, is now a sheriff’s deputy in South Carolina.
Brandon, who’s 16, is “the artistic one and can sing,” Maritza said. “And Brian is just full of energy, that’s how he always has been.
“When he was little, he was so hyper that I wanted to get him into something so he had an outlet. At first we put him into taekwondo. He was only three and it was for five year olds, but they took him.
“Soon though we had to stop with it. Daycare wouldn’t take him back unless we took him out of taekwondo. He didn’t know his own strength and he was too rough with the other kids.”
Eventually Orlando gave Brian a glove, bat and ball and taught him how to use them.
As Maritza remembered: “My husband came in from outside and said, ‘Oh my God! I think this is it! I think he’ll be good at this!”
“And when he was six, we signed him up for a community team and he loved it. They were just little kids and they were so cute, but they were competitive and made it to the state championship.
At Deltona High – where he graduated with a 4.25 grade point average in honors classes, Maritza said – Brian was a standout baseball player and committed to play for the University of North Florida. He later changed his mind and went to Miami Dade College, which has a storied program and several alums who played in the big leagues.
He nearly went to North Carolina State University out of MDC, but then the Reds drafted him.
From May until early August of 2019, he was with the Dragons – hitting nine home runs in 259 at bats – and then was moved up to the High-A team in Daytona Beach.
With the COVID shutdown in 2020, he lived back home and said he worked out daily in the batting cages with his dad.
“It was really nice having him home, we miss him a lot, but he’s still full of energy,” Maritza laughed. “He has a personality, how do I say it?
“He’s like a party in a box.”
“And by the time he left for baseball this year, we were ready for him to go. And he needed to get out there and play.”
And that’s just what he’s done. With the Dragons, he’s also a party in the box.
The batter’s box.
Dayton Dragons designated hitter Brian Rey celebrates after hitting a two-RBI double during their game against the Bowling Green Hot Rods on Tuesday night at Fifth Third Field. The Dragons won 6-1. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MICHAEL COOPER
‘We loved’ Dayton
On the eve of the home opener, Brian Rey recalled the things he liked most about Dayton:
“First of all, it’s the best stadium in the league and they have the most fans. To see a crowd every night was amazing.”
By phone from Florida, Maritza added: “When he was up there the last time, he had a wonderful host family. As a mother – knowing your son is on his own in another state – it was a relief knowing how they took him in.”
And then there’s the stadium’s home run horn that sounds like a huge cruise ship signally its departure from the dock.
“That really stands out,” Brian said. “Every time you hit a home run and you’re running around the bases you hear it. You’re already happy and that just makes it better.”
The last time Brian was here, his family spent a week in Dayton.
“We made it a vacation,” Maritza said. “We loved it.”
Now she said the family will be back here in early June for another visit.
“Dayton is real special to her, too,” Brian said. “She keeps that jersey the team sent her in her room. She won’t let me keep it in my room.”
She earned that jersey
And now he’s earning his own.