Venezuelan native Eddie Perez started playing baseball in the United States for a Braves minor-league team in 1987. He was 19-years old and figured this country would be the place he merely worked.
“I always thought I was going to play baseball and go back home every year,” Perez said.
Perez, now the Braves’ bullpen coach, has worked in baseball since he came to the U.S. and has lived here year-round since 1994. Eventually, he decided it was time to time for him to become an American citizen and that process was completed when he took the naturalization oath of allegiance this morning.
Perez, 46, said he will maintain his Venezuelan citizenship. But he’s also officially an American.
“I feel that the United States has been giving me too much already,” Perez said. “It’s my job; it’s my life. I live here. I give a good education to my kids… . I think (citizenship) was our next step we just never had the chance to do it. I feel so proud. I feel much better now that I’m a citizen.”
Perez’s wife and children were present at the naturalization ceremony. He said he was too nervous to invite Braves players, coaches or officials.
Perez said his path to citizenship was helped by a local judge he met at a Braves fantasy camp. The judge helped arrange it so Perez wouldn’t have to miss any Braves games while taking care of interviews and other requirements to become a citizen.
Perez played 564 games over 11 big-league seasons, including 415 games with the Braves. He was voted MVP of the 1999 NLCS, when the Braves beat the Mets, and set a record for catchers with a .464 batting average (minimum 25 at-bats).
Perez finished his playing career with the Braves in 2005 and joined the coaching staff the next year.
“It’s a better life here,” Perez said. “I love to be here. This is my house. I think my second house now is Venezuela.”