Salvador Perez was a 14-year-old third baseman of suspect fielding skills when Royals’ scout Orlando Estevez observed him with a prophetic eye at a tryout in Venezuela.
“When we were young, we just did whatever they wanted us to do to sign,” Perez said Sunday. “After the tryout, he was like, ‘Hey, can you throw a couple balls from behind home plate?’
“I said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah. And I throw a couple, and he said, ‘OK.’ ”
Something about it looked and felt right almost instantly, to Perez and presumably Estevez.
So, soon thereafter under first-year general manager Dayton Moore in 2006, the Royals signed Perez for a bargain rate of $65,000 to herald a profound and crucial new emphasis on Latin America.
The ongoing evidence of that broader investment, both in terms of cultivating such talent and acquiring it, was everywhere Sunday when the Royals smashed the Yankees 6-0.
It was Dressed To The Nines day, honoring the Negro Leagues, at Kauffman Stadium, but it might as well have been Latin American Appreciation Day, too.
The win went to Dominican-born Edinson Volquez, who pitched seven shutout innings.
The RBIs were furnished by Brazilian Paulo Orlando, Cuban Kendrys Morales and Venezuelans Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante and Perez — who drove in two and stoked it all with a solo homer in the second inning.
Considering what he contributes at the plate, the stellar defense he provides the Royals behind it and trust he engenders in pitchers, Perez arguably is the most indispensable player the Royals have — which continues to create a confounding dilemma for them:
How to maximize this remarkably astute investment (Perez continues to be an absurd bargain at $1.75 million this year) while not depleting him.
Even Perez acknowledges that’s what happened last year, when he caught in 161 games — including every inning of the 15 playoff games.
“My legs,” he said, “became tired.”
One of the ways to assure that Perez doesn’t get sizzled out might be to robotically rest him every day game after a night game.
Heck, it’s probably what I would do if I were in charge.
And Sunday offered a counterpoint to that kind of mechanical thinking.
After all, Perez already had sat out twice in day games on the Royals’ last road swing (which manager Ned Yost stresses only coincidentally featured Drew Butera catching for Jeremy Guthrie).
Then the week ahead features the oddity of two off days.
Add it all up, and the scenario explains why he played Sunday after a night game and why Yost doesn’t want to be trapped by a rote policy on when to rest him.
“Well, yeah, it’s a good example …, ” he said. “It’s hard to take him out of games when you have that kind of bat.”
Not to mention the blind faith he inspires in pitchers.
“I don’t even (read) the scouting report,” said Volquez, smiling and adding that he just throws where Perez tells him to.
Still, this is all more nuanced and complicated than it might look and sound.
Because it’s hard to measure the sinister, cumulative wear-and-tear until it starts to show.
It’s early in the season, not even 25 percent through, and on Sunday Perez was one of the last Royals to his locker after being encased in ice and hot and cold towels and getting rehydrated in the training room.
He limped slightly as he walked, an ice pack still wrapped around his left thigh.
“Nothing’s bothering me right now; all the players have something hurt,” he said.
Just the same, any time he plays a day game after a night game, Perez said, “I do have a lot of recovery; it’s a little harder.”
All of which makes it hard to know what the delicate balance is on how to handle the jewel that Estevez hatched and that Yost was transfixed by the first time he saw him in 2010.
He looked at Perez and immediately believed he was as a key to the future of a franchise.
“I’ve never seen anybody like him: a big guy who’s athletic, his energy, his work ethic,” Yost, who was a big-league catcher himself, said during an interview with The Star at spring training.
He added: “All I know is if I’m walking down the street and there’s a dollar bill lying on the street, I know it’s a dollar bill. If I’m walking down the street and it’s a 100 dollar bill, I recognize it’s a 100 dollar bill.
“Sal was a 100 dollar bill lying on the side of the street. I saw it the first second I laid my eyes on him.”
The formula for getting 100 percent out of the $100 bill, now and going forward, is less obvious.
Perez is coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances, which is tremendous … but not the same as being able to run through the tape at season’s end, either.
Last year, he hit .283 with 11 homers and a .765 on-base plus slugging percentage in the first 85 games.
But from there his numbers dipped to .229, six and .595.
Fatigue set in, and with more nicks and dinks and warm days and stray pitches and freak bat backswings looming it lurks again if the Royals and Perez can’t find a way to restrain themselves going forward.
“He’s trying to play 10 years from now,” catching coach Pedro Grifol said, “This is not just a three- or four-year thing here; we want some longevity in this thing.
“And to do that you’ve got to recognize when you need a day off.”
Trouble is, it’s hard to know what that looks like until it’s too late.
Especially when anyone’s judgment would be warped by how fundamental Perez is to the makeup of this team.