Royals' Salvador Perez is a backstop who always gets back up

All-Star catcher Salvador Perez -- forced to leave Game 4 of the ALDS after a foul tip struck his mask -- has taken a licking this October, but he has kept on ticking. Bob Levey/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At age 25, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez has three All-Star Game appearances and two Gold Gloves in his hip pocket.

He's a team leader with a big motor and an infectious sense of humor. Last year in the postseason, Perez generated an abundance of laughs when it was revealed that he likes to wear perfume behind the plate. He checks a lot of boxes -- tangible and otherwise.

As such, it seems a bit incongruous when Perez appears on the national stage and one particular storyline dominates the conversation: Media members can't get enough of asking him about his pain threshold.

Perez slugged four homers in 41 trips to the plate against Houston and Toronto in the first two rounds of the playoffs. He also spent an inordinate amount of time wincing and doubling over to catch his breath and shake off the pain. When Perez wasn't taking foul tips off the mask, cup or chest protector, the Kansas City trainer was coming out to tend to him after a Josh Donaldson swing accidentally clocked him on the glove hand.

It was telling before Game 5 of the American League Championship Series when Perez took a seat in the interview room and six of the seven questions posed to him were about the physical pounding he takes on a daily basis. Inquiring minds want to know: What hurts more -- a foul tip off the mask or the sting of a bat on a follow-through? Does Perez ever feel snakebitten by the beating he absorbs? Has he ever sought advice from Sandy Alomar Jr. and other rangy catchers about the special challenges they encounter behind the plate?

Yes, as it turns out.

"Alomar told me, 'Sal, there's nothing we can do about that. You're going to get hit no matter what,''' Perez said. "We're tough. We are big guys. I think it's more easy to get hit than the little guys."

As the Royals prepare to face the New York Mets in the World Series, Perez's impact on team performance and morale transcends his hulking 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame. Alex Gordon is the longest-tenured Royal, Lorenzo Cain is an MVP candidate and Eric Hosmer has perennial All-Star written all over him. But Perez, in many respects, is the backbone of Kansas City's back-to-back American League pennant winners.

"He's a very charismatic person, and he leads by example,'' Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "His passion to play and desire to compete every night overcome a lot of those sprains, strains and contusions."

These are the qualities that stood out when Rene Francisco and Kansas City's Latin scouting contingent scoped out a 16-year-old Salvador Perez in 2006 during a tryout at a Venezuelan military base. According to one humorous account of the workout, a soldier at the base was holding a German shepherd on a leash, and the dog broke free and chased Perez while he was running the 60-yard dash.

Within hours of the tryout, scouts Orlando Estevez and Juan Indriago were at Perez's house, sitting across the table from the young catcher and his mother with an offer. The Royals were prepared to give Perez a signing bonus of $65,000 before sweetening the pot with an additional $5,000 to consummate the agreement.

It didn't take long for Moore to realize the Royals had hit the jackpot. Bill Fischer, a senior adviser with the team, picked up the phone after watching Perez play in the Arizona Rookie League in 2007 and told Moore, "I've just seen the Latin Johnny Bench.'' Fischer, the embodiment of the crusty baseball lifer, is not a man typically inclined to hyperbole.

The Royals exercised patience with Perez, as they allowed him to learn the nuances of the game at minor league stops in Burlington, Wilmington, Northern Arkansas and Omaha before summoning him to the majors for good in 2012. Perez smoothed the rough edges in his game, and he has shown impressive durability and staying power since taking over as Kansas City's full-time backstop. Since the start of 2013, Perez ranks second to Buster Posey in games played (430) and hits (433) among MLB catchers in the regular season, and he's third behind Posey and Brian McCann in homers (51) and RBIs (219).

What can't Perez do well? He has drawn a mere 75 walks in 2,148 major league plate appearances, and he has a career on-base percentage of .306. He runs about the way you would expect from a 240-pound guy who spends most of his time in a crouch. He graded out as the 110th-ranked pitch-framer among 117 catchers in the majors this season, according to StatCorner.

Nevertheless, opposing teams run on Perez at their peril. He has thrown out 79 of 248 would-be base stealers (or 32 percent) over the past three years, and Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have learned to stay alert at the corner infield spots because he's always vigilant for baserunners who might stray too far from the bag. Perez's four catcher pickoffs during the regular season ranked second in the majors in 2015.

During the ALCS, Perez fired off a throw from his knees, Benito Santiago-style, and came within a hair of nailing Toronto outfielder Kevin Pillar on a steal. It's a common occurrence in his world.

"He's very athletic,'' Royals backup catcher Drew Butera said. "Don't let his size fool you. He's really light on his feet and quick in his actions. Things come naturally to him.''

While Perez's teammates fret over all the punishment he takes, they're simultaneously inspired by it. When Hosmer fouled a ball straight down during Game 3 of the ALCS and it deflected back up, bloodying his mouth, he waved off the Royals' trainer and immediately stepped back in the batter's box.

"Just seeing the beating that Salvy takes, you have no choice but to stay in there after taking one little foul ball off the mouth,'' Hosmer said.

The Royals made substantial strides in helping Perez stay fresh the past winter by prevailing upon him to not play winter ball in his native Venezuela. Instead, Perez indulged his hunger for competition by accompanying a touring MLB All-Star contingent to Japan in November.

Francisco said that in all his years as an international scout with Atlanta and Kansas City, two players have stood out for the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the park every day. The first was shortstop Rafael Furcal. The second was Salvador Perez.

"The one thing he always had was that smile,'' Francisco said. "He loves to play. And I don't know if anybody cares more than him. He really cares about his teammates, his coaches, everything. He really takes the game to heart."

As the Royals have discovered through all of Perez's anxiety-producing moments behind the plate, it doesn't matter how many times he gets the wind knocked out of him or is driven to his knees by the rigors of the catching profession.

He always gets back up.