SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Inside the main concourse of Hiram Bithorn Stadium is a colorful mural stretching across a long wall. Fans who walk through the main entrance are greeted by paintings of Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago, Yadier Molina and other great catchers who hail from Puerto Rico.Welcome to
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Inside the main concourse of Hiram Bithorn Stadium is a colorful mural stretching across a long wall. Fans who walk through the main entrance are greeted by paintings of Ivan Rodriguez, Benito Santiago, Yadier Molina and other great catchers who hail from Puerto Rico.
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Indians catcher Roberto Perez dreams of one day having his name included when people think of "Catcher Land." When he arrived at the ballpark ahead of this week's series against the Twins, Perez strolled along the wall, looking at the famous Puerto Rican catchers who have come before him. The mural includes former Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who is currently the team's first-base coach.
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"I looked up to those guys when I was a little kid," Perez said ahead of Tuesday's game. "Walking into the stadium and seeing all of those legends, it's something special. I'm so grateful to be here and be part of this event and to be able to play in front of Puerto Rico. It's something that I won't ever forget. I'm not going to take it for granted."
Perez has gotten to know Molina -- the Cardinals' long-time catcher -- and has worked out with him over recent offseasons. In Cleveland, Alomar doubles as the Tribe's catching instructor, so he has also had the chance to take Perez under his wing and help him develop into one of baseball's top defensive backstops.
For Wednesday's game, Perez will be behind the plate to catch Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco. The catcher's family will be in the stands, along with a host of friends. His mother, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September, will be making the trip from Mayaguez on the island's western coast to watch her son play in his homeland for the first time with his Major League team.
"I just can't wait," Perez said.
Other catchers featured on the wall include Javy Lopez, Jorge Posada and Ellie Rodriguez. The list is impressive to the point that Bengie Molina and Jose Molina are not included. While Rodriguez may be one of the lesser known of Puerto Rico's line of Major League catchers -- at least among general baseball fans -- he played in important role. He broke in with the Yankees in 1968 and went on to become a two-time All-Star in the Major Leagues.
Alomar is proud to have his name on a list that began with Rodriguez.
"Everything started with Ellie Rodriguez a long time ago," Alomar said. "Ellie Rodriguez was the main guy along with Orlando Mercado and Junior Ortiz back then, but then it really started becoming a big part of Puerto Rico when Benito Santiago made it to the big leagues. He inspired a lot of players to play catcher. After Benito came in, then Pudge Rodriguez, Javy Lopez and some other guys.
"I'm very proud to be part of that corps and Yadi Molnia is a Puerto Rican captain and he's taking catching to a different level. I always had pride to be part of a Puerto Rican catching corps that made it to All-Star Games and own Gold Gloves and all of that."
Does Alomar believe Perez has the potential to put his name alongside those Puerto Rican-born greats?
"Roberto could be one of those guys," Alomar said. "He has a tremendous ability to catch and he has great hands. He's one of those guys who is a prospect to win a Gold Glove if he caught every day."
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 Facebook.