Once upon a time, Salvador Perez lurked — as effectively as a 6-foot-3, 240-pound ballplayer can, that is — in the Royals dugout after a victory, an amorphous concept forming in his mind.
There was an orange Gatorade cooler on the bench in front of him, the remnants of sports drink swirling within the container and waiting to be dumped into a dugout drain by a team attendant.
Perez had another idea.
He got the attention of Fox Sports Kansas City’s Joel Goldberg, who was interviewing the player of the game, and shushed him with a finger over his own lips. Perez charged out onto the field, cooler hoisted over his right shoulder.
As soon as Perez dumped the icy contents of that 10-gallon tub over a teammate’s head in the 2014 season, a phenomenon was born. The Salvy Splash became a crucial element of the theatrics of a team trying to break a nearly three-decades-long postseason drought.
The tradition has lived on in a scene that has become unique in baseball. It’s not just walk-offs that Perez celebrates. Rarely does a Royals victory go by without a player falling prey to Perez’s antics.
“It wasn’t every day but now every time we win, I feel like I have to,” Perez told The Star in Spanish.
Soon, however, this nearly eight-month marathon that is a baseball season will end with the Royals’ erratic campaign plodding to its finish. The coolers will be packed until it’s time for spring training again.
When Perez returns to them in 2018, the Salvy Splash fans have come to know won’t look the same. The Royals organization is on the verge of undergoing a facelift because of the impending free agency of franchise players Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Perez is running out of guaranteed chances to splash his longtime teammates one more time before they disband for the winter … and possibly beyond.
Still, this spectacle has become bigger than its cast of characters. It has become a permanent thread in the fabric of the club, the type of ritual that keeps fans in their seats despite the Royals missing the playoffs two years in a row.
“It’s become an institution,” Goldberg said.
Before Goldberg was forced to visit the cleaners more frequently, before a bobblehead commemorated a World Series championship bath, before vinyl artwork of the Salvy Splash was installed near the Royals Hall of Fame …
There was a man, a bucket and a very particular process for Gatorade and ice baths.
As a victory approaches, Perez picks whichever of the two coolers — one filled with water, another with Gatorade or the like — in the Royals dugout is most full. He’s been known to peek at them toward the end of a game. On particularly hot days, it’s hard to find much of either drink left.
Once he has shed his catcher’s gear in the dugout, he hauls one of those coolers up the steps, signals to Goldberg and gets to work.
Arranging a Salvy Splash used to be easy. Perez would barrel onto the field, pester a teammate or two and scurry back to safety. Nowadays, it’s a full-scale production.
“Not only is he a Gold Glove catcher, not only does he like to occasionally take the mic and do interviews, but he now wants to direct where people stand, where the camera is,” Goldberg said. “He’s after everyone’s job.”
Perez passed along this short set of instructions:
▪ Goldberg must ensure players have their backs to the dugout steps.
▪ Goldberg must retain steady and unflinching eye contact with his interview subject.
At the core of the commands is a simple concept. Goldberg must not give the sneak attack away — even if it means going down with the players and leaving the ballpark in a wet suit.
“Yeah, but he never does it,” Perez said. “He always stays in front.”
Truly, the problem isn’t in the carefully crafted guidelines.
The problem is that players expect Perez’s antics. After pivotal or otherwise extraordinary wins, their attention is often split between answering questions and anticipating the impending shock of cold water.
“It quickly became an expectation for the players where they just knew it was coming, but they kind of fought it,” Goldberg said. “For a while, it used to be trying to interview somebody when their head was on a swivel. You couldn’t get anybody to focus on anything.”
Even as recently as Thursday, after Melky Cabrera put together a 3 for 4 night and drove in the only run in a 1-0 win at Toronto, Cabrera found himself negotiating with Perez while on camera with Goldberg and translator Pedro Grifol. Cabrera lost the battle.
But that hasn’t eliminated the thrill a Salvy Splash sends through the Royals or their fans.
Perez never intended for the Gatorade bath to become “a thing.” His idea wasn’t even revolutionary. It was just a carbon copy of similar celebrations implemented throughout the world of sports.
Still, the spectacle became so ubiquitous Perez could not shake it. He took pride in it. If any of his teammates tried to douse him in return, Perez would get huffy — including the time backup catcher Drew Butera dropped a cooler on the dugout steps
“No one can splash me,” Perez joked. “I’m the one who invented it. No one can try. Drew tries sometimes. He does it badly. He doesn’t know how.”
The Splash is as much part of Royals fandom as it is a component of Perez’s persona. And it has now been around long enough that no one knows for certain how it began.
Hosmer was the first to go under — so goes the popular belief, anyhow.
Goldberg isn’t sure that’s true, but Perez has said so on multiple occasions. When asked in the clubhouse about it in August, Perez playfully said, “Next question,” then added, “I don’t remember either. Hold on.”
Hosmer confirmed it, sort of, when asked later.
“I feel like I was like the first guy he did it on,” Hosmer said, after looking toward Perez’s locker as though for backup. “I would say maybe 2013, somewhere around there. I couldn’t tell you an exact date. But maybe toward the second half of that is when it started happening. Now it just seems like it’s (been) forever.”
The details are so murky there’s room to believe otherwise.
In The Star’s archives, which only include instances in Kansas City, the first appearance of a Gatorade bath executed by Perez is from July 2012. With help from a former teammate, Perez spilled a cooler over Alcides Escobar.
When the tradition took on a name and life of its own in 2014, the first Salvy Splash photograph from that year was of Alex Gordon getting the treatment in May.
In a way, the Salvy Splash is almost a mythical thing — tangible, yes, but veiled in mystery.
What we do know is no one has ever actually admitted to liking the Splash. At times, vice president of communications Mike Swanson said, game heroes will lament being chosen for the on-field postgame interview. Brandon Moss, for instance, lightheartedly griped about getting doused with cold water on an unseasonably chilly night in August.
“No,” Moss told Goldberg on-air, moments before Perez came bounding out of the dugout. “It’s going to be so cold.”
But the protests are always lighthearted. The Salvy Splash has such a positive connotation that its effects are, in a way, Pavlovian. A celebration in the Royals clubhouse typically follows one. There’s an intrinsic link between the two scenes.
It’s hard to get annoyed when a Splashing always means you’re winning.
“Usually, when you’re getting soaked it’s a good feeling,” Hosmer said. “It means you had a good impact on the game. There’s not too many days when you’re disappointed about it.”
By the summer of 2014, when Perez started dumping cold liquids over his teammates on a regular basis, fans were quick to jump on the Splash train.
“It was one of those organic situations that just kind of came about,” said Brad Collins, who performs as Royals’ mascot, Sluggerrr. “The fans took to it and he took to it. … It just proves that people are in love with these players. There’s a genuine connection between the players and the fans.”
T-shirts popped up. The #SalvySplash hashtag surfaced on Twitter.
Jimmy Fallon fell victim to a Splash during a post-World Series appearance on his nightly talk show.
Last year, a billboard was erected in honor of the Splash. Hallmark celebrated the end of a fundraising drive by getting Perez to upend coolers over company leaders at Crown Center.
A “Splash Cam” segment, where fans display posters fashioned after the Splash on the Kauffman Stadium video board, became a constant fixture at Royals games.
This year, Perez starred in a Price Chopper commercial where he greets fans and also stands in an aisle offering and dumping cups of Gatorade.
The list of Splash-related paraphernalia and ruses goes on. Calling it a phenomenon might be an understatement.
“It’s just something that’s taken off,” Swanson said. “The fans get more into it, I think, than the players do. They’re expecting it, they’re anticipating it. And when he doesn’t come out, it becomes news.”
Even if the Splash itself is different next season — “different” only by virtue that some of the longstanding cast of characters will likely exit, stage left — it won’t lose its place in Royals fan lore.
Perez has made sure of that.
“I just did it as a joke, to have fun (the first time),” Perez said. “From then on, everyone wanted to see the Salvy Splash. I gotta do it for the people.”