Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez found the best way to celebrate the team's annual FanFest on Friday -- by becoming a United States citizen.
Perez, already a fan favorite and six-time All-Star who was selected World Series MVP when the Royals beat the Mets in five games in 2015, took the oath of citizenship at a jam-packed Bartle Hall in Kansas City during the team's annual event.
For the Venezuela native, completing the long process to become a U.S. citizen might have been the most difficult -- and rewarding -- challenge of his life.
"You know what? I would rather be in the World Series, bases loaded, two outs, 3-2 and hitting than do that thing again," Perez told the adoring crowd. "I was shaking. My eyes were super big. I felt like I needed to drink water every second. But it was fun, after."
Perez, who missed last season after having Tommy John surgery in March, finished the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen when he stood on the main stage among guests who included Royals teammates, members of the front office and clubhouse staff, and manager Mike Matheny and Royals chairman John Sherman.
Chief U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips presided over the ceremony. With his citizenship, Perez will be able to help members of his family get green cards and permit his wife to visit her father in Venezuela.
"It means a lot to him," Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said before the ceremony, via KansasCity.com. "I just saw him a couple minutes ago and just congratulated him on it. It almost looked like he teared up, so it means a lot to him. I'm happy for him and his family. I know this is a special day for him."
His five-year quest to earn citizenship included intense studying for his citizenship test and learning from tapes while driving his car around his offseason home of Miami.
"It's just a special day, obviously, for Salvy and his family, but I think for our community and our country, to see someone this excited about becoming a citizen of the United States of America. And it means that much to him that he would go to any length to make that happen," Matheny said, via KansasCity.com. "I think it's pretty humbling to all of us that maybe fall victim to taking that for granted sometimes."
Perez, 29, expects to be in the Opening Day lineup this season, which would be a happy ending to a rough couple of years. He also was hurt to begin the 2018 season, missing several weeks after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his left knee while slipping with a suitcase on the stairs a day before Opening Day.
He batted a career-low .235 that season but matched his career highs of 27 homers and 80 RBIs while playing in 129 games. He earned his sixth straight All-Star nod.
The five-time Gold Glove winner has a .266 career average with 141 homers and 503 RBIs in parts of eight seasons with Kansas City.
--Field Level Media