Salvador Perez, other Latinos led way in Royals triumph

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Salvador Perez
World Series MVP Salvador Perez leads the cheers during Kansas City’s championship parade.

It has always been customary behavior for me to chill out and collect my thoughts at the conclusion of the World Series. I need a couple of days to reflect on key moments, how momentum unfolded and what defining factors determined why one team was successful while their opponents failed. Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to figure out how the Kansas City Royals emerged victorious over the red hot New York Mets in a mere five games. As the late, great Jack Buck once said, “I can’t believe what I just saw!”

Look, I predicted prior to spring training that the Royals would return to the Fall Classic, and everybody laughed at me. That’s because most media-types didn’t give this team much respect, and some in the Royals clubhouse, primarily Hispanic players, took it personally. It was shocking to me, though, that Kansas City was able to confront all three of New York’s young guns on the mound (Matt Harvey twice), and still manage to end the series so quickly. These guys were simply relentless. I’ve never seen so many foul balls and spoiled pitches by a lineup, just waiting for a mistake to put the ball in play. The score didn’t seem to matter to these tenacious Royals, even when it seemed like they were hopelessly behind. Like Muhammad Ali and his rope-a-dope tactics, this group never panicked. They seemed to lure the Mets into carelessness, and then chipped away with jabs and counter-punches until their adversary fell to the canvas.

I was extremely proud of Kansas City’s Latino players, which represented nearly half of the postseason roster. Alcides Escobar once again proved why he is one of baseball’s elite shortstops. After being named MVP of the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, the slender Venezuelan cooled off a bit against the Mets. But he still connected for one big fly and four RBI from the lead-off spot and was smooth as mantequilla on defense. Similarly, Cuban-American Eric Hosmer scuffled a bit at the plate and booted a couple of critical ground balls at first base. That said, the 26-year-old Miami native seems to relish his reputation as “Mr. Clutch.” Hosmer’s opposite field double in the ninth inning of game five ruined an exceptional performance by Harvey, and his base-running was both brilliant and daring.

I’ve never been a big Alex Rios fan, mainly because he lacks durability and lets his mind drift from time to time. I might be wrong, but when a guy is playing in such a high-stakes event, he should know when there are two outs instead of three. I’ll cut Alex some slack, though, since he did make a couple of nice plays in right field while hitting the ball hard in poor luck. And who could forget the crucial base knock my fellow Puerto Rican Christian Colon in game five. In his only tournament at-bat, I’m sure Colon will store that moment is his memory bank for life.

Everybody contributes on this Kansas City club, which is a good reason why they are such a close-knit group. Yet, there is no question that catcher Salvador Perez is the Royals main superstar and why his World Series MVP award was so deserving. Big Sal is a terrific defensive receiver, a team leader and he hits the ball with authority. Against New York’s entourage of acclaimed right-handed pitching, the 6′-3″, 240 pound Perez batted .344 with eight hits to help keep the offensive line moving. I don’t know how the durable Venezuelan was able to continue after taking a nasty foul tip off the thumb of his throwing hand in the game one marathon. What’s clear is the Royals wouldn’t have prevailed without Perez, because he calls a superior game, constantly makes adjustments and councils his pitchers like a Catholic priest. It’s not easy to navigate high-strung hurlers like Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez through the course of an outing, and it helps that Perez speaks their language.

What I like about the Kansas City Royals is that most of their athletes are just nearing the peak of their careers, and players like Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, Escobar, Kelvin Herrera, Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Ventura are all under team control for at least two more years. It’s also possible that since free agents Johnny Cueto, Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist will finally own a ring, they might decide to stick around when chances are good that they could win another one. In addition, the Royals have several Latino studs on the farm like Raul Mondesi, Miguel Almonte and Nicaragua’s Cheslor Cuthbert who are ripe and ready.

After suffering a 30-year drought, over 500,000 fans lined a parade route in Kansas City to catch a glimpse of their beloved champions after they returned home from the Big Apple. And I can guarantee that it won’t be another three decades before these folks will be celebrating again. It’s alright if most of us don’t quite understand. That’s part of what makes the game of baseball so special.

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