Roberto Perez faces his mentor and countryman, Yadier Molina, as the Indians take on the Cardinals this weekend.AP
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Puerto Rico’s legacy of excellence among major league catchers is well represented at Busch Stadium this weekend as the Cleveland Indians face the St. Louis Cardinals in a three-game series.
Starting catchers Roberto Perez and Yadier Molina have 10 Gold Glove Awards between them and Indians acting manager Sandy Alomar Jr. has one of his own. Granted, the majority of those trophies reside on the 17-year veteran Molina’s shelf, but Perez quickly proved himself worthy of carrying on the island’s deep tradition when he swept nearly every major defensive award last year.
From Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to three-time Gold Glove winner Benito Santiago to two-time All-Star Ellie Rodriguez — wearing the gear is considered a badge of honor among players from a land where flashy shortstops often grab all the headlines. Alomar, who has coached Perez in the nuances of the position for the last six seasons, said he is excited to see the two backstops continue their friendly rivalry as the student in Perez is on his own path to becoming a master.
“They like to compete against each other,” Alomar said. “There are many things that ’Berto learned from Yadi. Yadi is basically the captain in Puerto Rico for the World Baseball Classic. He’s the guy that everybody looks up to, including Roberto.”
Learning from those who wore the gear before you might not be a trait exclusive to Puerto Rican catchers, but with so many great backstops hailing from the island, Alomar had plenty of options. He grew up watching guys like Ellie Rodriguez and former Indians bullpen coach Luis Isaac play winter ball on the tiny island nation. When it came time for him to choose a position, Sandy Sr. told him catcher might be his best path to the big leagues.
“As we went along, there was Benito Santiago and myself and Junior Ortiz in the big leagues and Orlando Mercado,” Alomar said. “I don’t know if Pudge (Ivan Rodriguez) and those guys followed us or what.”
Alomar said he was drawn to the chess match aspect of the position, and always being involved in every play.
“I just like the leadership part of catching, controlling the game,” Alomar said. “It’s the only position that you’re facing all the other players. To me, that was outstanding. I felt like that was something unique.”
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