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Homeland pride fueling Perez's development

Playing for Puerto Rico behind Molina an educational gem
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Roberto Perez does not take the assignment lightly. To be asked to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic as a catcher carries a lot of weight. The island has gained quite a reputation for churning out backstops, from the Molina brothers to newly elected Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

Now, Perez will get the chance to represent his homeland alongside Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. In the past several years, Molina has gone from idol to mentor for Perez, who spent this winter training with the St. Louis catcher. Joining him on Puerto Rico's Classic roster is a dream come true for Perez.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Roberto Perez does not take the assignment lightly. To be asked to play for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic as a catcher carries a lot of weight. The island has gained quite a reputation for churning out backstops, from the Molina brothers to newly elected Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez.

Now, Perez will get the chance to represent his homeland alongside Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. In the past several years, Molina has gone from idol to mentor for Perez, who spent this winter training with the St. Louis catcher. Joining him on Puerto Rico's Classic roster is a dream come true for Perez.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::"It's an honor," Perez said. "I call it a blessing also, because to be elected as a Puerto Rican catcher, we have so many good catchers. I'll be behind Yadi, but to be there with him, it's an honor, man. I can't wait to represent my country, put that uniform on and whenever I get the chance to play, I'll just go out and have fun."

Perez said he headed into the winter with his confidence at an all-time high, following his stint as Cleveland's starting catcher throughout the team's run to the World Series. Perez launched a pair of home runs in Game 1 of the Fall Classic against the Cubs, and found himself in the national spotlight for his defensive abilities, including his work with framing pitches.

Video: CLE@CHC: Perez throws out Heyward on steal attempt

When Molina told Perez he "was awesome" in the playoffs, it meant the world to the Tribe catcher.

"He said, 'I told you,'" Perez recalled with a smile. "He said, 'You have a chance to be one of the best catchers also. You have the ability to do it.' For me, for this year, I'm going to have that confidence from last year, and I'll be carrying it to this year. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, man."

Two winters ago, Perez worked out with Molina's trainer in Puerto Rico. This past offseason, Perez traveled to Florida, where he teamed with the same trainer and Molina for about six weeks of workouts. The Indians catcher said his main priority was picking Molina's brain about the mental side of the game and his daily routine and preparation.

Tweet from @MDRSportsMgmt: Two of MDR's favorite catchers celebrating at Yadi and his wife's 10th anniversary party @Yadimolina04 @robperez2015 pic.twitter.com/d87RXCgukE

"It was an awesome experience," Perez said. "I was trying to pick up a lot of things from him. I wanted to get better mentally. Why not, when he's probably the best catcher in baseball?"

Indians manager Terry Francona agreed.

"I know he really looks up to Yadi," Francona said. "And, if you're going to look up to somebody, that's pretty good. Besides the obvious skills you see, from what I understand, his work ethic is really good. I think he pushes Roberto in the winter, so that's a good thing."

Molina can push Perez some more in the World Baseball Classic, too.

"There's so much pride there," Francona said. "'Berto's come so far that it's just fun to brag about him. I remember three springs ago, kind of getting after him, because I thought he was not going full speed. You look up three years later, and he's catching the staff in the World Series, and nobody seems to be worried about it. He's come a long way. And it's through a lot of hard work."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

Cleveland Indians, Puerto Rico, Roberto Perez