'I'm going to try to do my job': Salvy's spring smile a home run for KC

March 14th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- As the Royals kicked off Spring Training with workouts on the backfields of their spring complex, the excitement was palpable all around about getting back to business. After an hour-long team meeting on Monday morning, when manager Mike Matheny and some of the Royals’ brass addressed the team about the organization and its vision for 2022, the big leaguers set out for the back four fields to stretch. That was followed by defensive drills, batting practice, side sessions and live BP.

Fans followed the action. Players signed autographs. Baseball filled the air after months of uncertainty due to the lockout and Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

“I have never seen a first day as -- I don’t even know how to accurately describe it,” Matheny said. “I don’t know how to quite describe it. I knew the staff was excited. I knew I was excited. But it was the first time where it felt equally reciprocated. That’s pretty special.”

It seemed no one was happier to be back at Spring Training than Salvador Perez.

“They all have the Salvy smile walking in today,” Matheny said of his players. “I’m looking forward to nine months of that.”

When Perez arrived at camp on Sunday and went out to catch Jackson Kowar’s bullpen session, Perez threw his arms in the air and exclaimed, “My first bullpen!”

“I was super happy,” Perez said of when he heard about baseball’s return. “I was at home with my wife and started to pack everything. They told me Thursday, and I almost [flew] on Friday. That was too quick. I had to wait another day, send my car, prepare my luggage and take the first plane on Saturday. I’m super excited to be back.”

The Royals' veteran catcher and leader on and off the field, Perez has been waiting since the final day of last season to get back on the field and build off his historic 2021 campaign. His 48 home runs tied Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the Major League lead, and Perez tied the franchise single-season home run record and set the record for the most home runs by a primary catcher in a season, all while playing the most grueling position on the field as Kansas City's backstop.

For as big of a season as it was, though, “it’s over” now, Perez said on Monday. The focus is on 2022 and, somehow, improving from last year.

That meant changing nothing -- absolutely nothing -- from the previous offseason and the training that sparked his career year.

“I don’t have to change anything after last year,” Perez said. “Believe me, I didn’t change anything. I want to do the same exact thing. OK?”

Perez spent the offseason in Miami working with a group of players that included Jorge Soler and Aroldis Chapman. Before the lockout, the Royals helped Perez get baseballs and a pitching machine to help train because he couldn’t work with special assignment hitting coach Mike Tosar and bench coach Pedro Grifol like he had in past years.

“Personally, I’ve just got to be ready, prepare myself,” Perez said. “It’s something that I could not control. I was ready. You practice every day. I was sad, a little bit, when I heard at first that we were going to cancel a couple games. The good thing is we’re going to play 162 games and we’re not going to miss any games. I’m happy to be back in here, and I can’t wait to start the season.”

So how does Perez improve from last year? The Royals will start by making sure everyone knows that wasn’t his peak.

“I didn’t say he’ll never do it again,” Matheny said. “Let’s make sure. I don’t think for a second [that was] his best. He showed everything we needed to see. And he’s hungry enough. He’s teachable. There’s no reason why he can’t build on where he was. We’ve celebrated big time what he did. It was so impressive. But … it never crossed my mind, ‘There’s no way he could do that again.’ That hasn’t even been in my atmosphere. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do better. That’s where my head is, and I hope that’s where his is.”

Perez feels the same and hopes to build off the routine he learned last year with Tosar, as well as the importance of consistency of that routine -- even when things don’t go well at the plate one night.

“Hopefully I can continue to do it and help my team,” Perez said. “Hit as many home runs as I can, as many RBIs as I can, try to be the best behind home plate. But I don’t try to think about, ‘Now I’ve got to try to go hit 50.’ It’s not that easy. It’s not going to be that easy. I’m going to try to do my job, hit the ball hard and see what happens.”