Vahe Gregorian

Royals catcher Salvador Perez lives for his mother

Royals catcher Salvador Perez and his mother, Yilda Diaz, outside the team’s clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez and his mother, Yilda Diaz, outside the team’s clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium.

Yilda Diaz stood on Citi Field in New York after the Royals beat the Mets in Game 5 and won the 2015 World Series.

The thrill of it all became numbness when she learned her son, Salvador Perez, had been chosen Most Valuable Player.

Only a year before, it felt like her “heart was dying” when he made the last out of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series with the tying run on third base against the Giants.

Now, this was too much to process until her ever-merry son hurried toward her with his new trophy, cradled her with the hardware and said, “Hey, Mama, we did this.”

Then she could feel it all, so she started crying.

When it comes to Mother’s Day, Perez says, “All the moms in the world, every son has to be proud of. Because she had you in her stomach for nine months, you know?”

Naturally, he especially feels this for his own mother, who he likes to call “my life” and always comes before anybody else, he’ll tell you.

That connection is why when she was back home in Valencia, Venezuela, they talked twice a day, about how to cook a certain dish or clean something to just gabbing, and it’s why she can expect an enormous bouquet of flowers and a fruit basket on the annual day to honor mothers.

His appreciation of the relationship always has been there.

But perhaps it’s become all the more precious to Perez since she was the victim of a carjacking at gun point in February in Venezuela — where Perez no longer travels unless surrounded by six bodyguards.

He had her flown to the United States shortly thereafter, and now the plan is to ultimately move her here permanently as they navigate various immigration laws.

Until she can secure a green card, though, every six months she has to return to Venezuela — where Perez says she won’t so much as go back to their home but stay in a hotel under watch.

Here, though, she enjoys the improbable life her son now can provide for them, where she “can be happy, buy what she wants to buy,” he said.

That was enhanced all the more in March with a contract restructuring that guarantees him $52.5 million from 2017 through 2021.

“Pretty good life for her,” said Perez, whose mother lives in his home with him. “She deserves.”

For as long as Perez can remember, he was raised by his mother and adored grandmother, Carmen Ramos, who died in 2013.

“It’s like he was her kid, too,” Diaz said Friday through translator Rafi Cedeño. “They were just incredible together.”

When he thinks of the father who abandoned the family, Perez says he feels not anger but … “nothing.”

In the barrio of industrial Valencia, the streets were riddled with crime and meanness and potential pitfalls that were made all the more perilous with no child support coming in.

But his mother sustained them financially with a relentless work ethic as his grandmother often assumed the more direct mothering role at home.

Cancer patient Teresa Thaman and her husband, David Thaman, watched the Royals take batting practice before Kansas City played the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. Salvador Perez noticed their sign and invited them on the field

Whatever it took to make it all work, Yilda Diaz took on, whether it was cleaning houses or assisting in a doctor’s office or making arepas (corn pockets), pasticho (Venezulean-style lasagna) or pastries to sell.

As hard as she worked, it’s telling of a liveliness she seems to have modeled for her son that she tended to dance and sing when she cooked, then and now.

Not surprisingly, her selfie-taking, Gatorade-pouring, perfume-drenched, Lorenzo Cain-torturing son was born “very full of life.”

But that spirit evidently reached another tier at age 4 when she signed him up for baseball as a way to occupy him and give him structure.

She still has that first uniform and spikes and other equipment from throughout his career.

It’s because she’s sentimental, though, not because she ever thought then about a baseball future for him.

It’s just that she saw the joy it gave him then … and ever since:

Over their lunch on Thursday, the topic of “happiness” came up. Asked to define it, Perez said he would just write down the word “baseball.”

That passion was evident in his endless beseeching of his mother to pitch to him.

In what seems to be a Venezuelan childhood niche to improve hand-eye coordination, she pitched corn kernels and bottle tops to her broomstick-wielding boy.

For hours, sometimes. On their patio and in their living room.

“Mama, pitch to me!” he’d plead. And she couldn’t resist.

As much as Perez, who turns 26 next week, remains known for his childlike exuberance, he was so entranced by baseball that he was not hard to keep disciplined, his mother said.

With her stressing that he had to do well in school to be allowed to stay in baseball, he was focused on that.

He also was a naturally good listener who was inclined to try to please.

From his perspective, she steered him right by always “being honest to me, telling me the right things. I think that’s the good thing you have to do with your son: ‘That’s bad, that’s good, you can do that, you can’t do that.’

“And when you talk to your son, your son’s going to hear you.”

Whatever else was going on in their lives, baseball became a constant as he put posters on his bedroom wall of Venezuelan baseball stars like Andres Galarraga and Omar Vizquel and morphed into a catcher.

Ten years ago this summer, only months after Dayton Moore took over as Royals’ general manager and rejuvenated the Royals’ Latin American operations, Perez’s signing was authorized by the Royals’ Rene Francisco after he and other scouts were dazzled by the combination of Perez’s skills and contagious personality.

On that particular day at the camp at a military base, Perez also had impressed with his speed … after a German shepherd broke loose from his handler and chased him as he was running a 60-yard dash.

“That’s the fastest I’ve ever run,” Orlando Estevez, now the Royals director of Latin American scouting, recalled Perez saying then.

When Estevez and area scout Juan Indriago signed Perez that night for $65,000, Estevez recalled everyone in the room weeping.

When they received the check, Perez said he never even touched it, instead gesturing for it to be handed to his mother … and telling her to buy a house with it.

For all that’s changed in their lives in the near-decade since, one thing remains exactly the same.

“I’m going to give everything to my mom, from now to the rest of my life until she dies,” he said. “I just want to make my mom happy every day.”

Because they did it.

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