Terry Kennedy was a big catcher -- 6-foot-3, 230 pounds -- who played mostly in the 1980s. Like all big catchers, even though there aren't many, he had trouble at times behind the plate with footwork, mobility, etc.
"Every time I had problems,'' he said, "they'd send in the roving catching instructor, who was like 5-foot-8! I'd look at him and think, 'You have no idea what I'm going through back there. I'm having trouble because I'm so big. Send me someone who understands what I'm going through back there. Send someone my size!'''
Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez is Kennedy's size -- 6-foot-3, 240 pounds -- but Perez is a tremendous defensive catcher. "The best defensive catcher I've ever seen,'' said Royals manager Ned Yost, a former catcher who played around the time of the great Johnny Bench, and preceded Hall of Fame catcher Pudge Rodriguez with the Rangers by a few years. To be as good as Perez, as big as he is, is amazing. It takes a lot of work, more work than for a smaller catcher.
Have you always been a big catcher?
Perez: Yes. When I was 9 or 10 years old in Venezuela, they had a height requirement for our teams. If you were too big, it didn't matter how old you were, you weren't allowed to play. I was too big to play, I was extra tall. So, when they were getting all the kids together for the first practice to pick the team, my mom told me to stand in the back of the pack, and kind of bend my knees, to make myself shorter. She showed me how to kind of duck down. But it didn't work. I tried out for 10 teams. I was too big for seven of them.
What challenges does your size present you as a catcher?
Perez: Because I am so big, I have to stay as low as I can in order to get to the low pitch. The pitch that is up is much easier to catch. So, I work every day, because I have to, on staying down. When there is a runner on first, and he might be stealing, I have to make sure not to get too tall when I come out of the crouch to throw. I have to work a lot on staying down.
Is your catching coach big or tall?
Perez: My catching coach, Pedro Grifol, is a former catcher, and he is pretty big. He is almost my height. So he knows what I'm going through back there. So we are used to coming from the same position when I have to go down to block a ball, or come up to throw to second.
Do other catchers comment on how big you are?
Perez: [Cardinals catcher] Yadier Molina isn't nearly as big as me, and he has told me before, 'I can't believe how well you move back there at your size.' He has helped me a lot. He is always trying to help me with positioning, footwork. And he tells me, 'Keep your head down.'
How does your size help you behind the plate?
Perez: Because I'm so big, I can cover a lot of area back there -- I can cover the whole plate with my body. I can give a big target for the pitcher. He can't miss seeing me when I am back there. If there is a collision at the plate, at my size, I am bigger than some of the runners.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter calls you "a big pillow.'' How do you keep your big body soft?
Perez: That is technique. When the ball bounces and hits your chest protector, you need for it to hit softly and land softly, not bounce away. I work on that all the time. I am big and soft.
You have incredibly quick feet, especially for a big catcher. Where does that come from?
Perez: I work at it. And when I was a younger, I played a lot of basketball. Basketball helps you with your footwork. Most of the best catchers of all time have great feet. You have to.
Can you dunk a basketball?
You are wearing ankle weights. What are they for?
Perez: They are to make me quicker. I have 5-pound weights on each ankle. In spring training, I wear them all day, all the drills, blocking balls, throwing to bases, but I take them off when I hit. Once I start moving around better later in spring training, I will switch to the 10-pound weights. When you wear those all day, then take them off, your feet feel really quick. At my size, I have to do whatever it takes to get quicker and faster behind the plate.