Salvy brings passion of Classic back to camp

Melendez describes emotions of playing for his country

March 22nd, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Royals’ clubhouse was going through its usual pregame activity Tuesday afternoon when a jolt of energy suddenly seemed to make its way into the room.

was back.

The veteran catcher and leader of this Royals team returned to camp after his World Baseball Classic experience, serving the same role for Team Venezuela as he does for Kansas City. Perez went 6-for-14 with a homer in four games, with Venezuela losing to Team USA in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Perez wasn’t in the Royals’ lineup in their 6-2 rain-shortened loss to the Cubs at Surprise Stadium on Tuesday night, but he’ll get back into Cactus League action soon as the Royals eye Opening Day just over a week away.

And after the WBC, Perez is ready not only for real games, but for meaningful games once again in Kansas City.

“I want it even more now,” Perez said about getting back to the postseason. “Every game is important [in the WBC]. Especially in the second round; you lose and go home. I didn’t want to lose. So it’s a different feel for me. I was fired up and wanted to get our team fired up.”

Perez compared Classic games to the World Series and even ventured to say playing in the tournament was better than Game 7 of the World Series because of the intensity and emotion of playing for your country.

“When you play for your country, it’s a different feel,” Perez said. “It’s different. I can’t explain it. I love the Kansas City Royals, I love everyone here, I love this organization, and I’m always going to play hard. But for your country? Especially with all the problems everyone knows we have. It is special. It always will be.”

Perez knew what playing in big games felt like before this spring. But he emphasized how much it could help young players like and for USA, and for Team Italy, for Team Puerto Rico and Perez’s teammate for Venezuela, Carlos Hernández. Perez called Hernández “nasty” and a potential closer after describing the 100 mph heat the righty was throwing to USA’s lineup on Saturday. Perez was ecstatic to see Witt pinch-run in the ninth inning for USA on Tuesday.

Melendez, who homered and caught a runner stealing in his return to the Cactus League on Tuesday, called the Classic “the best experience of my baseball life, by far, hands down.”

“The crowds, the rosters, everything, and most importantly, you’re playing for something that means more,” Melendez said. “And not to say it doesn’t mean a lot here. It’s just different. When you’re playing for the team that drafted you or the team that pays your bills, obviously that’s extremely important and something you should always take pride in. But when you’re playing for your blood, your ethnicity, your nationality, your family, you play with that extra pride and passion that every single person beside you feels.”

Melendez was emotional hearing his name being announced during the starting lineups of his first game for Puerto Rico, played at loanDepot Park in Melendez’s hometown of Miami. Running out to the outfield with the crowd roaring around him was a feeling unlike any he’s ever had.

It has him fired up for this season, and he’s excited to be back in camp with Perez -- who went 4-for-4 against Puerto Rico -- instead of facing him.

“It’s better to have him on my side now,” Melendez said. “When you have a captain of a team, a leader, that can do that, it sets the tone. Salvy did it for Venezuela, he does it for us here. It was important for me to see it firsthand with the guys on Puerto Rico, too, because I want to be that player someday.”

Worth noting

• The Royals expect to have their roster all but officially set by the end of this week because of the two exhibition games they’re playing in Texas against the Rangers next week before Opening Day. They will bring a taxi squad to help cover innings.

• Singer didn’t get into Team USA’s loss in the World Baseball Classic final on Tuesday, setting him up to be back in camp and start Thursday against the Padres. Singer’s lack of innings while away at the Classic is slightly concerning ahead of the regular season; he pitched just two innings in one game. That likely takes Singer out of the running for an Opening Day starter nod, since he would be on turn to start Tuesday in Texas and would likely be built up to just four or five innings.

• The game Tuesday ended with two outs in the top of the seventh inning during Kris Bubic’s outing. He was scheduled to go three innings, so he got one more “up” in the batting cages.