In the days after Eric Hosmer signed with the Royals in 2008, the club sent him to play rookie ball for the Idaho Falls Chukars. It was already late August, and the season was nearing its end. But the Royals had invested $6 million in the high school first baseman from Miami. They were ready to start the process.
So on an afternoon in 2008, Hosmer linked up with the team on a road trip in Ogden, Utah. His locker that day just happened to be next to a young catcher from Venezuela. His name was Salvador Perez, and he spoke little English. But there was something about him, Hosmer says. He liked him from the start.
“One of the first guys I met,” Hosmer said.
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Inside a Hyatt hotel ballroom Monday morning, Hosmer faced a wall of cameras and recalled the story of how he met Perez. It was media day on the eve of the 87th All-Star Game at Petco Park, and as Hosmer sat in a room of All-Stars, enjoying his first trip to the midsummer classic, he peered to his right. Perez was facing his own wall of cameras, just two tables down.
Eight years after meeting for the first time, Hosmer and Perez will share the field in San Diego. Hosmer will start at first base and bat sixth in his first All-Star appearance; Perez will start at catcher and bat eighth in his fourth. For both, the occasion sparked a moment of nostalgia.
“When I first played with him, Salvy didn’t speak a lick of English,” Hosmer said. “He’s doing full interviews now; just to see the growth of him.”
The career arcs of both players mirror the arc of their franchise. Eight years ago, the Royals were in wholesale development mode, awaiting the maturation of their top prospects. On Tuesday, the defending champions will be represented on the field, in the dugout and in the bullpen.
Royals manager Ned Yost will manage the American League for the second straight year after leading the team to the World Series title last fall. Reliever Kelvin Herrera will offer a power option in the bullpen. Closer Wade Davis was selected to the game but remained in Kansas City to rehab a forearm strain.
In most ways, though, the Royals’ contingent will be led by two members of its core, two friends who grew up together in baseball.
“He was just always nice to me,” Perez says. “As soon as he got there, he just talked to me a little bit.”
For Hosmer and Perez, Tuesday’s All-Star Game will offer a brief reprieve before the second half of the season. On Monday, it also meant a barrage of questions about the state of their team. The Royals enter the second half of the season at 45-43, seven games behind the Cleveland Indians in the American League Central. At the moment, Kansas City finds itself in third place with a long list of question marks. For now, though, Hosmer remains optimistic that his team can make a run during the second half.
“We realize that’s what we have to do if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” Hosmer said. “We believe in ourselves as a team. The guys that have come up have really bought in. They really play our style of ball. We just got to figure out what we can for this second half.”
The Royals have been beset by injuries and inconsistent starting pitching. But after running away with the AL Central division in 2015, Hosmer conceded that the struggles have been frustrating.
“It's just been weird,” Hosmer said. “Any time we’ve seemed to get hot, something happens injury-wise. We just can’t really pull two or three weeks of solid baseball together.”
The Royals will open the second half of the season in Detroit on Friday night, facing a team a half game ahead of them in the standings. After three games on the road, they will return home for a nine-game home stand against Cleveland, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.
“We’re going to be tested right out of the gate,” Hosmer said.
Which brings us back to Tuesday’s All-Star festivities. As the Royals’ traveling party journeyed to San Diego on Sunday evening, they were joined on the charter flight by Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano, who hopped a ride after a weekend series at Kauffman Stadium. Hosmer had grown up watching Cano play second base for the Yankees, and for a moment, the conversation on the flight drifted back to Cano’s years in New York.
“He made the playoffs nine straight years with the Yankees,” Hosmer said. “Coming off two straight years, you realize how hard that is to accomplish.”
For now, Hosmer is hoping the Royals can still make it three.