Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez #13 of the Kansas City Royals reacts after hitting the game winning RBI single in the 12th inning against the Oakland Athletics during the American League Wild Card game at Kauffman Stadium on September 30, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Salvador Perez can’t stop smiling. Maybe that’s because his team, the Kansas City Royals, find themselves up 2-0 and headed home to Kauffman stadium against the Los Angeles Angels, in their first playoff series since 1985.

Maybe he’s smiling because just 72 hours ago, he had the game-winning RBI single in the 12th inning of the Royals improbable Wild Card victory over the Oakland Athletics. Or maybe Salvador Perez is smiling because never in his wildest dreams when he was living in poverty and throwing the baseball against run down walls in his native Venezuela, did he think this would be possible.

Perez grew up in Valencia, Venezuela where he played baseball on the cities all-dirt fields with his friends. Perez loved the game, and his talent became apparent in his teenage years. At 16 years old, he had quick hands, a powerful arm, and a high ceiling, but he kept getting passed over by Major League scouts.

“Everyone overlooked him,” says Rene Francisco, the Royals’ director of international scouting. “Including us. We took a chance.”

Perez encompasses the Royals team. Before 2006, the Royals did not have any international scouting. Royals General Manager, Dayton Moore, made sure to change all that. Since 2006, the Royals have become one of the biggest presences on the international scene and the biggest spenders globally. Perez was one of their first prospects.

When Perez joined the Royals organization, he was just 16 years old, and never thought of having much chance of making a big league roster. In 2008, a scout in the Kansas City Royals scouting school was asked to pick one player that he believed could become an every day major leaguer. While most scouts in the school chose Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer (obvious choices), this scout chose Perez.

As Perez rose through the minors, so did the Royals. Every year they improved their winning percentage, and the team slowly grew into a playoff contender by 2013, precisely the time when Perez made his first all-star team.

Perez and the Royals have now arrived. The Royals made the playoffs this year for the first time in 29 years, and are one win away from heading to the ALCS. Similar to Perez, the Royals had a roller coaster ride of a season. After a hot start, Perez struggled offensively in July and August, but finished with a strong September.

There is no doubt that one of the Royals greatest moments in franchise history is because of Perez. Perez was 0-5 with two strikeouts before his final at bat. Like the Royals themselves, Perez struggled early, only to shine the brightest when the moment was at its greatest.

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