KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Already a World Series MVP, six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove catcher, Salvador Pérez became something else when he stepped onto the main stage at the Kansas City Royals’ annual FanFest: a U.S. citizen.
Pérez took his oath of citizenship on Friday, the completion of a five-year process that he described as long and difficult, but well worth it.
“I would rather be in the World Series, bases loaded, two outs, 3-2, hitting than go through that again,” he said. “I was shaking and my eyes were super big. But it was fun.”
“Becoming a U.S. citizen is great,” said Pérez, who was born and raised in Venezuela.
Pérez missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery during spring training. He’s healthy and hopes to regain his old form, which include 162-game averages of 24 home runs, 87 RBIs and a .266 average.
“My elbow is great,” he said, noting that he lost 22 pounds this offseason. “If everything goes well, I’ll be in the lineup on opening day.”
The Royals will see if the 29-year-old Pérez can approach those numbers this season. Either way, getting their team leader back behind the plate will be key for the club.
“Those offensive numbers you’d want in any lineup,” new manager Mike Matheny said. “The presence behind the plate, you’d want in any lineup. The leadership in that clubhouse is priceless. There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t want that combination.”
“I think that guy just brings those intangible qualities that’s infectious all through the ballpark. I always had great admiration watching him play that position with a smile. I never figured that out. This guy does it so naturally,” he said.
Pérez and outfielder Alex Gordon are the two position players who were regular parts of the Royals’ 2015 championship and are still with the club. Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi made his major league debut in that World Series, but he bounced back and forth from the minors until last season.
Gordon re-signed for a one-year deal this week. He contemplated retirement, saying he would only play for the Royals.
“I’m very excited to be back where I belong, where I spent my whole career,” Gordon said. “This means a lot to me. I just have that fire still to play and I felt like I could still contribute to this team. I left the season knowing I was going to play again.”
Matheny is as encouraged about Gordon’s return.
“I think this is one of the best stories in baseball this year,” Matheny said. “You have a guy decide to stick around. I would love to help create an atmosphere where people can’t wait to play here and then refuse to leave.”
Gordon’s production had declined since the 2015 season before he rebounded in 2019. It caused him to think heavily about coming back.
Matheny also has renewed passion after being out of the dugout in 2019. He managed the St. Louis Cardinals from 2012 through midseason in 2018 before being fired with a 47-46 record. He never had a losing season and led the Cardinals to the postseason in his first four years.
He spent the time between then and being named Royals manager last October learning about the Kansas City organization and about himself, including taking a course in baseball analytics.
“I want be up to speed with technology, and I made some friendships, including one with Ari Kaplan, who ran the course. I asked him to evaluate me as a manager. That’s something I’ve never had done before. I needed someone to take that 30,000-foot evaluation. Help me see my blind spots. I just don’t want to be a victim of what I don’t know,” he said.
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