ATLANTA -- Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez arrived at Turner Field on Wednesday afternoon wearing a bright smile and beaming with pride. The former catcher had spent the previous few hours being naturalized as a United States citizen.
"It was a long process and it went very well," Perez said. "I'm happy to be an American."
When Perez first came to the U.S. in 1986, he was a 17-year-old catcher who had recently signed his first professional contract with the Braves. At the time, he assumed he would spend the rest of his playing career traveling back to live in his native Venezuela during the offseason.
But since establishing residency in the Atlanta area in 1994, Perez has become entrenched in the U.S. culture. His children have been born and raised here and he has developed a strong bond with both Atlanta and the Braves' organization.
"I feel like the United States has given me too much already," Perez said. "It's my job and it's my life. I live here. They've given good education to my kids. I've been living here since 1994. This was our next step, but we just never had the chance to do it. But I'm glad we did it and I feel so proud. I feel much better that I'm a citizen now."
Perez was able to complete all of his requirements with the help of an immigration judge he was introduced to during Braves Fantasy Camp this past winter.
"I always thought I would come here, play baseball and go back every year," Perez said. "There's a better life here. I love to be here. This is my [home]. I think my second [home] now is in Venezuela."