The scene is the Quality Inn in Surprise, Ariz. It’s the eve of the start of rookie ball for the Royals, 2007, and third-round draft pick Danny Duffy is trying to sleep but can’t because of a boisterous guy nearby.
So he makes his way across the hall to ask, or perhaps tell, the offender, “Hey, you have to be quiet.”
He remembers a “monstrous human being” turning toward him, arms crossed, and snapping, “Que pasa?”
“I was scared to death of him,” said Duffy, shrinking away and covering up for emphasis as he told the story.
Then the big fellow unveiled his jolly side, laughing and telling Duffy he was just kidding and greeting him warmly as a new teammate.
That was how Duffy met Salvador Perez, who eight years later remains as dedicated to frivolity as he is to the drudgery of playing catcher.
Here he is, mischievously hiding in the dugout as he prepares to dump a cooler of water on the star of the game.
There he goes, running onto the field for batting practice and swooping in behind catchers coach Pedro Grifol to knock Grifol’s glove out of his hands before going to the batting cage to chirp at Alex Gordon.
Here he stands, talking about wearing perfume on his uniform to make himself more appealing to home-plate umpires.
And there he lurks with his iPhone, waiting to ensnare in videos camera-averse teammate Lorenzo Cain, the perfect foil as he swats away Perez or points a finger at him and scolds, “You’re always playing, man!” or protests, “Why, why?”
Why? Simple enough:
“Because he’s one of my best friends on the team, and he doesn’t like the camera,” said Perez, adding, “You have a lot of serious (in baseball), you know? We (don’t) want just the serious in the game. …
“Go out happy and play the game happy.”
Some combination of this making of mirth and abundant worth on the field has made Perez an irresistible force among fans.
That accounts for why he was the leading overall vote-getter in Major League Baseball during much of the All-Star balloting before finishing fifth overall.
In his own way, Perez perhaps best embodies the Royals’ invasion of the All-Star Game, with four players voted to start and seven overall named to the team.
During the playoffs last season, fans around the country swooned over the Royals. That was in no small part because of the underdog role they assured by being in the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
But it also was because of the style of play and energy and sheer enthusiasm for the game that radiated from the Royals.
No one stands for that more than Perez, who repeatedly during the playoffs left the Royals clubhouse to celebrate with fans near or on the dugout and always could be found hamming it up for cameras.
“They can see his passion for the game, they can see how good he is as a player, and that is very attractive to fans,” manager Ned Yost said. “They’re looking for guys they can root for, guys who are fun to root for; Salvy is definitely one of those guys.”
Perez is also one of those guys to the guys in the clubhouse, where he automatically changes the dynamics of the room whenever he enters because of his booming voice.
From far away, pitcher Edinson Volquez said, laughing, everyone knows when Perez gets to the ballpark.
“Right when he walks in that door, it’s just a different energy he brings and he spreads throughout the clubhouse,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who, in fact, has every bit or more the clubhouse influence of Perez but is less prone to the goofiness.
These are professionals, of course, and they’re responsible for motivating themselves.
Yet it’s also true that the season is a marathon, full of draining travel and the monotony of day after day after day spent essentially the same way.
So some means of keeping things light and lively is welcome, and Perez has embraced that role in person and through social media.
“You’ve got to have a little bit of fun, or you’re going to lose your mind in this game … Salvy seems to be the ringleader of that, which is awesome,” Duffy said. “He’s never changed; I think that’s one reason why everybody loves him.
“He’s authentic: His happiness, and his love and passion for the game, is authentic. There’s nothing artificial about it, and I think that kind of thing is contagious in a clubhouse, to a fan-base, to an entire city.”
Of course, without the currency of his play, Perez’s shenanigans would have all the impact of one hand clapping.
But as he prepares to play in his third All-Star Game, is on trajectory toward a 25-30 home-run season and perhaps a third Gold Glove behind the plate, Perez continues to make good on the promise that the Royals saw in him early.
As Duffy was getting over being terrified by Perez in 2007, Royals special assistant Bill Fischer called general manager Dayton Moore and said, “I just saw the Venezuelan version of Johnny Bench.”
Fischer’s words had clout. He had been a Reds pitching coach when Bench was playing, and Moore had known Fischer since Moore came into professional baseball in 1994.
“He’s not somebody who (casually) hands out those types of comparisons or compliments,” Moore said.
Perez has a long way to go to be reminiscent of Bench, but he’s blossomed into a star in rapid time.
Especially when you consider it’s just over a decade since Royals scout Orlando Estevez saw his inauspicious play at third base during a tryout camp in Venezuela and suggested Perez throw a few balls from behind home plate.
“It seems like he just continues to expedite his experience, if that makes any sense,” Duffy said. “Sometimes, you can’t really rush experience and knowledge, but he just seems to grow two years every year.”
As for actually growing up?
Well, Perez, 25, is in no apparent hurry.
He’s the same way, he said, as he was in school. He was a good student, he said, but he always found himself making “some little jokes to make some people happy.”
Even if it’s by, say, frightening them first.
“But once you get to know him …” Duffy said.
You won’t find many people in baseball, or anywhere, more fun than Perez, Hosmer said, and it goes a long way in a game that “will get to you sometimes.”
Not to mention a long way with fans.
“He’s fun to watch,” Moore said. “People want to see him play.”
Baseball Reference compares players with others in history at their current age. For Salvador Perez, who is 25, those players include: Rich Gedman, Benito Santiago and Tim McCarver.
Home runs, tied for most by a catcher
Games in 2014, most for a catcher
Pickoffs, most in Royals history