DETROIT -- Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez grew up in Valencia, Venezuela, a metropolis situated in a valley along his native country’s northern coast. When he arrived stateside at age 16, he played three seasons in the Arizona Rookie League. But it wasn't until he made his professional debut in Kansas City that Perez truly understood the demands of catching in extreme heat.
Known for both its stellar barbecue and its swampy heat, Kansas City was not an easy place for Perez to spend hours on his haunches, crouched down behind the batter’s box. In his fourth full season with the Royals, it’s still one of the toughest aspects of his job.
"The first time I caught a really hot game I was thinking, 'Am I gonna die today?' Seriously, after six innings, you start to feel like ..." Perez said, doing his best slack-jawed, bone-tired expression.
This season, he has caught games when the temperature at first pitch was in the 90s. (According to research from ESPN Stats and Info, the hottest game Perez has caught had a game-time temperature of 94 degrees; July 23). The heat can prove a worthy opponent. It’s one thing to be a fan, sipping on a cold lemonade or draft beer, soaking in the sunshine from the stands. It’s quite different to be toiling in the heat as a player, especially with the unforgiving fabric of standard-issue baseball uniforms.
"I think it’s one of those things that people don't realize. After we play, even after each inning, we feel it [even] more in the dugout," Perez told ESPN.com. "We get a cold towel, put it on our legs, we put cold water [on our neck]. I change the jersey, like, four times during the game -- inside, in the cage, because you have the AC on -- so you feel a little better."
A sweat-laden jersey weighs down Perez’s 6-3, 240-pound frame. And that’s on top of the gear he’s already sporting, including a chest protector, shin guards and a mask -- all of which feel even heavier on a hot day.
"It weighs more. It’s a little heavy. That’s why we're always changing the jersey," Perez said. "I sweat a lot. All the gear I have, the masks. Sometimes I have to change my mask [during the game], because it stinks a lot."
During a particularly toasty game, he’ll drink upward of 10 bottles of water. He’ll mix in Gatorade that’s available between half-innings as well.
Sometimes, even that's not enough, so Perez seeks hydration in the form of intravenous fluids before the game to prevent dehydration, though that has been slightly more difficult to accomplish this season compared to previous seasons.
"Last year it was little bit easier to get IVs. It's a new rule, I think," Perez said. "So [the medical staff] just has to get [permission] that you really need it, and then guys come down and give it to you. Now, it’s a little harder to get IV."
A source confirmed to ESPN.com that though there has been no official rule change, the league’s medical supervisor did recently clarify, in the form of written guidance to all teams, the situations in which IV hydration is considered the best practice.
Besides the standard sweat and stink, the heat can have other, more serious physical manifestations, such as nausea and muscle cramping. The most taxing part of all, Perez said, is the mental toll it takes on players who are already subject to the rigors of a 162-game schedule.
"I think that’s the hardest part," Perez said. "If you think you're going to be tired, you're going to be tired."