'A great example,' Salvy earns Clemente nom

September 17th, 2021
Jason Hanna/Kansas City Royals

KANSAS CITY -- is having a historic season. The Royals catcher is racing toward the Major League home run lead, tied for first at 45 with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. entering Friday night. Those 45 homers are tied with Johnny Bench for most in a single season by a primary catcher.

Not only is he a force offensively, Perez also ranks among the best catchers in baseball on the defensive side this season.

Yet none of these is the accomplishment he or the Royals are most proud of in 2021.

Perez was named the Royals’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award this week, baseball’s most prestigious individual award and one that recognizes players who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions both on and off the field.

As part of the annual program, each MLB club nominates one player to be considered for the league-wide award in tribute to Clemente’s achievements and character. The overall winner is announced in the offseason.

“Roberto Clemente, for me, is one of the best,” Perez said. “He was a Latin player, and that means a lot to us. Especially, I know he was a great player and all of that, but what he did off the field, for me, it’s even better. That’s what made him Roberto Clemente. He took care of people, helped people. Tried to have fun with the fans.

“He was a humble guy. I really thank God for me being nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award.”

Perez was nominated for the work he’s done in education and specifically his involvement with Teach for America. In 2016, he participated in the nonprofit’s Shark Tank: Teacher Edition in Kansas City as one of the “Sharks,” and since then, he’s made monetary donations to Teach for America through Royals Charities. He also donated 400 sets of toy bats and balls for Teach for America’s Back to School Bash, which youth from all over the city attend to gather necessary supplies for the upcoming school year.

Perez’s passion for his work off the field stems from his mom and growing up in Venezuela.

“My mom, and the way she raised me, she likes to take care of family and people she doesn’t know,” Perez said. “I learned that from her. That’s what I like to do. And especially here in Kansas City, the community here. I want to make everybody happy. If I can make a little kid smile, make a difference, that’s what I want to do. And I got that from my mom.”

Perez, who also credited Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore with instilling a passion for helping people in Kansas City, has hosted teachers who receive financial grants at Kauffman Stadium, too. This year he wasn’t able to meet with them in person because of COVID-19 protocols, but he paid for suites, food and gifts when they came to a Royals game.

Kyle Vena, the Royals’ vice president of community impact, has been involved with the organization since 1996 and in the front office since 2006, where he’s held a variety of baseball administration roles. Vena remembers first hearing about Perez’s mentality off the field in ’06, when Colin Gonzalez -- then overseeing cultural development and now an amateur crosschecker -- told Vena about this young player named Salvador Perez.

“'The dude’s different,'” Vena remembers hearing. “'He’s smart, shows up at class, committed, he thrives in education.'

“I think the people that were in his life when he was younger, this is his way of giving back,” Vena added. “He understands how he could do baseball, but he knew that he had people who were strong in his circle that were pushing education. So when he did that Shark Tank, he met the Teach for America crew, and he’s like, ‘All right, this is what I want to support.’”

Perez’s passion for education has led into other philanthropic work. He has coached clinics for kids, filmed surprise messages for Royals fans during the pandemic, supported essential workers during the pandemic and continued his work as a member of “Sarah’s Soldiers,” supporting local police officer Sarah Olsen through her battle with ALS. Perez has also partnered with Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer.

Perez is undoubtedly the Royals' leader on the field. He guides pitchers from the behind the plate and is the field general to the rest of the defense. He is the most dangerous hitter in the lineup and is an example on how to prepare for each game and each season.

But he’s also the leader off the field, an example for the Royals' young players on how to use their platform to make an impact.

“Salvy’s a great example of somebody with the right kind of heart to go out and make a difference and use what he’s been able to accomplish for the greater good,” manager Mike Matheny said. “That’s something that we hope our best players do because what they do is often replicated, and we want to see that all the way through our organization. Where guys are just seeing beyond themselves and seeing the bigger picture and opportunity to make a difference.”