It was sometime during the 2012 season when Alcides Escobar of the Kansas City Royals grabbed a bottle from his locker and sprayed some of its contents onto Salvador Pérez. Caught off guard, Pérez warned his fellow Venezuelan and close friend not to mess with him, punctuating his emotion with some colorful language in Spanish.
Hours later, though, Pérez was far from bothered. He collected four hits that day and smelled great in the process. The mysterious substance in the bottle, from his point of view, had become a performance-enhancer: women’s perfume.
“From then on, I bought all the Victoria’s Secret there was,” Pérez recalled recently in Spanish.
Baseball is full of traditions, superstitions and quirks. But few are as amusing or as aromatic as the one Pérez, Escobar and countless other players — many of them from Latin America — engage in on a daily basis: dousing themselves in cologne or perfume before stepping onto the field.
“When people go to work — man or woman — they get ready and dress up,” said Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel, who is from Cuba. “I see it like that: this is my job and I like to look good, and I like to smell good, too.”
Although a baseball field is perhaps the last place people would expect to smell like concoctions of flowers, fruits and tree oils, the players have their reasons. Among the most cited: They don’t want to smell bad when they sweat, and the emotions attached to their colognes and perfumes — special occasions, a specific frame of mind, positive vibes — are helpful reminders during tense competitions.
“These guys are all physically capable,” said San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler, 46, who was on the receiving end of former star slugger Manny Ramirez spraying cologne on his teammates before games when they were on the Boston Red Sox.
“They’re all plenty athletic, plenty strong, plenty talented to have success on the baseball field,” Kapler continued. “But confidence ebbs and flows dramatically during the season. So this is probably too in the weeds, but if these guys smelling good or looking good on the baseball field makes them feel confident, maybe that marginally improves their performance.”
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While few players could explain the origins of this tradition, it has been around for decades. Several from Latin America said using cologne or perfume in everyday life is common and it naturally carried over to the field.
“If I don’t have perfume on, I feel strange,” said Seattle Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez, a Venezuelan. “Even though it sounds crazy, I feel like I haven’t taken a shower if I don’t spray perfume on before playing.” (Suárez, 30, clarified that he does actually shower.)
“It’s something cultural,” added Carlos Santana, 36, a first baseman for the Royals who is Dominican.
Since he was a child, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher starting pitcher Alek Manoah, who is of Cuban descent, said he has been spraying himself with cologne — which is still given to him by his grandmothers every Christmas — after a shower. Yankees relief pitcher Wandy Peralta said he learned to apply fragrances from older Dominican players.
In the minors, where players often make meager salaries, Pérez said he didn’t see many players spraying themselves before games. But in the majors, everything is more, from the paychecks to the notoriety.
“You’ve got to look good,” said Astros infielder Aledmys Díaz, 31, a Cuban. “This is the show.”
Before he defected from Cuba in 2016, Gurriel said he used a cologne from the Antonio Banderas Collection — the only cologne brand he could find. In the United States, he has more options and money, so he buys more frequently. And because he plays first base, he gets visits from opponents throughout the game.
“All the players always tell me, ‘You always smell good,’” he said, laughing.
Francisco Lindor, the Mets shortstop from Puerto Rico, rotates between half a dozen scents before games and sometimes mixes them. He said that if players catch a whiff of something they like on the field, they ask each other what they are wearing.
Even though most players are often several dozen feet away from each other on the field, Suárez said he likes hearing that he smells good. Pérez said he can sometimes pick up the aroma of Luis Severino, a Dominican pitcher for the Yankees who uses a women’s body splash, despite Severino being 60 feet 6 inches away when facing him.
“I’m a catcher so I sweat a lot,” Pérez said, pointing to all his gear. “So a little perfume helps. The umpires say, ‘Oh Salvy, you smell good.’ I say, ‘Thank you. Give me some strikes.’”
Throughout baseball, the cult of fragrances has spread beyond players from Latin America. With the Cincinnati Reds, relief pitcher Amir Garrett, who is from Las Vegas, said he watched teammates Raisel Iglesias, Peralta and Suárez apply cologne before games. So Garrett, 30, started raiding Suárez’s stash with permission and has continued the cologne practice now with the Royals.
Jordan Romano, the Blue Jays closer from Canada, said he never used cologne until a teammate, Rafael Dolis, a Dominican, gave him his first bottle last year. As Romano, 29, grew to love the ritual, the two began gifting each other new bottles and Romano developed his own method. He rotates between three colognes: one for when he feels good, one for when he said he feels “dangerous” and another for when he tries to break up the team’s losing streak.
“I spray it on the boys,” he said. “I’ll offer it up if I think we need it.”
Some players, though, don’t think they do. When he walks through a perfumed clubhouse, Yankees starting pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. has joked to himself, “Man, are we going to play baseball or are we going out?”
Considering how polarizing scent can be, it is a topic ripe for division in the clubhouse. Or, at least, for some good-natured ribbing.
Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays shortstop, joked that he can sometimes smell players “like 20 feet away.” Beyond a nice dinner with his wife, Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Doolittle said the only other time he uses cologne is “when I walk through a cloud after one of the guys puts it on in the clubhouse.”
“It’s baseball, bro,” Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisolm said of his lack of cologne use, adding that his teammates loved his natural aroma. “You’re going to sweat. You’re going to stink a little bit. Not everybody. I don’t ever stink after games because I put on deodorant. That works. I feel like that’s all you need.”
Behind the plate during games, Giants catcher Curt Casali said he and the umpire are the first to notice the opposing hitters’ scents for the day.
“They walk up to the plate and say what’s up,” he said. “Then I look back at the umpire, ‘Did you just smell that?’”
Astros Manager Dusty Baker, 72, who would get sprayed with cologne by his Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Manny Mota, a Dominican, in the 1970s, said his players make a point to come up to him for a pregame check. He added, “They don’t say, ‘Smell me.’ But they walk by.”
None does so more than starting pitcher Framber Valdez. Gurriel, 37, said Valdez, a Dominican, uses “a ton” of fragrance.
“You sweat a lot and sometimes you like to smell and feel comfortable and feel fragrant and feel free,” added Valdez, 28.
For games and practice — yes, Valdez also sprays himself for those — he said he uses a refreshing, tropical scent. But he uses a softer one when he isn’t pitching. When he goes out with his teammates, he has a third option that he described as “very intense.”
Asked if they helped him pitch better, Valdez, a key piece of an Astros team that reached the World Series last season, responded without hesitation, “Of course.”
Pérez, now 32, felt the same way about his old Victoria’s Secret perfume. Escobar, now 35 and with the Nationals, and Pérez said they first came across the floral scent at a nearby mall in Kansas City and the company subsequently sent them the perfume for years after the players’ usage became public.
In their minds it worked: They made the World Series in consecutive seasons and won it in 2015. Told of a successful tradition, other players are prone to getting ideas.
“I’ve probably smelled like crap,” said a fragrance-less Casali, 33. “Maybe I should call a Victoria’s Secret to send me some.”