04/21/08 2:57 PM ET
Silverio reflects on path to big leagues
Royals' long-serving third-base coach was once prospect
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY -- The dusty streets in the small town of Villa Gonzalez in the 1960s and 1970s were like diamonds for Luis Silverio. There, the little boy swung a bat and ran and threw balls.
That was long ago, misty memories of hard, but good times. Those recollections today bring smiles to Silverio, one of the longest-serving and most-respected staff members of the Kansas City Royals.
"I grew up in a small village near Santiago in the Dominican Republic. [It was a] small town with a lot of tobacco growing, and that's what my dad did," Silverio said. "I came from a very large family -- 15 all together, seven girls and eight boys -- and we all lived in a small three-bedroom house. It was very tight then, but growing up was the fun part."
It's been a long, winding road for Silverio, now 51 and a Major League coach in his 34th year in the Royals organization.
It's a nice life now for Silverio. As the Royals' third-base coach, he travels the country in chartered jets, stays in plush hotels, instructs multi-million-dollar players and is introduced every night on loudspeakers in big league ballparks.
Yet, Silverio reflects his humble beginnings. He blends into the background of the team and does his job. He's a monument to perseverance and dedication. Although he now lives in Kansas City, he's never really far from Villa Gonzalez.
His father, Luis, is 84 and lives in Santiago, about seven miles from the old homestead. His mother, Consuelo, has died.
"She just passed away a year and a half ago and I'm missing her a lot," Silverio said. "My mom and dad were a hard-working couple and she was always making sure everything was running OK in the house, because my father was hardly around -- he'd leave at 6 o'clock in the morning and sometimes he came back when it was dark. Sometimes, we were even asleep when he came home. Those were tough times, but it was something that I will never forget."
His father leased acreage for his crops and had to split the profits with the landowner. There were 15 kids to support.
"At the end of the year, we might have $200," Silverio recalled. "At that time, the dollar and the peso were one and one. It was not much, but enough that he could buy each kid a pair of pants, a pair of shorts and a pair of shoes. That was a once-a-year thing."
In their modest three-bedroom home, the parents took one room, the girls took one and the boys took the other.
"We suffered," Silverio said. "There weren't always three meals a day on the table. Sometimes two, sometimes one, sometimes three. But my father and my mom always let us be in sports.
"We all had the support from them, and every Sunday, we were all able to play ball, all day."
The kids in the streets fashioned their own equipment. They'd cut a tree and make a bat. Their gloves were fashioned out of old cardboard milk cartons. The balls were wrapped-up pieces of discarded paper or cloth.
"At the end of the tobacco season, then we could use that land, and that's how we built our own fields and learned how to play," he said. "My brothers would take me to their games, so baseball was in the blood for us."
And, at night, there were the radio broadcasts.
"We followed baseball," Silverio said. "On that little radio at home, they broadcast games from the big leagues back to the Dominican, and we were able to listen to those games in Spanish. They did it by teletype and re-created the games in Spanish. They'd just read something and they'd re-create it. And we'd listen, especially for the San Francisco Giants and Juan Marichal, and the Alou brothers were there, and Julian Javier with the St. Louis Cardinals. Those were the two teams that, growing up, we knew the most because most of the Dominican players who were there."
His older brothers knew it, but Luis, then 7 or 8, didn't realize that the announcers were re-creating the games from the play-by-play reports that they received in a studio.
"We thought it was the real thing," he said. "That was the game and we were there. One little radio and you could hardly hear the volume, so we all kind of put our ears together and listened."
The boys made do with their homemade baseball gear until, at about age 14 or so, they joined organized leagues that had some real equipment. Not much, but enough. Real bats and balls. No uniforms, just your regular pants or shorts and a T-shirt. And you might have to borrow a glove.
Luis Silverio was pretty good and when, at 15, he began playing with older amateur teams in Santiago, some baseball scouts took note. Within a couple of years, in the summer of 1973, he got offers from the Montreal Expos and the Philadelphia Phillies. His father and older brother, acting as advisors, turned them down. Then, that winter, the Kansas City Royals came calling and this time the answer was "Yes." He got a bonus to sign.
"[I got] $4,000 to help my father pay for a lot of debt from way back," Silverio said. "For those days, the early '70s, that was pretty good. If you got $7,00, $8,000 or $10,000, that was real good. But I was average at that time."
But young Silverio could run like the wind. He could hit. He could cover center field. He was raw, a diamond in the rough, but the potential was there.
The Royals sent the 17-year-old kid to Sarasota, Fla., where Ewing Kauffman's revolutionary Royals Academy was in operation. This was his first trip to the United States. It was an exciting time. It was February 1974.
"But that was a shock, coming alone from the Dominican to the United States, not knowing the language. That was tough," he said. "But when you make a choice to come here, you just start working hard and do the things you're supposed to get better. That and knowing there was a way for you to help your family."
Silverio went to work. He spent two years in rookie ball at Sarasota. Then he graduated to Class A ball at Waterloo, Iowa, in 1976.
"I had a pretty good year there and after that they put me on the 40-man roster," he said.
That was a huge step. When the Royals put him on their roster, that meant he was a big prospect. The next year he went to Double-A at Jacksonville, Fla., and moved up to Triple-A Omaha in 1978. That September, he was called up to the Major Leagues and made quite an impression -- he hit .545 (6-for-11) with two doubles, a triple, two walks, a stolen base and seven runs scored.
One of his hits was a single off Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who was in the process of pitching a complete-game, 13-3 victory for the California Angels at Anaheim. Royals manager Whitey Herzog got some of his regulars out of the rout and put Silverio in right field and into George Brett's spot in the batting order. Silverio singled to left field in the ninth.
The next spring he went to camp with the Royals in Fort Myers, Fla., and that was the beginning of the end for him as a player.
NEXT: Fate deals a cruel blow, but a new opportunity as well.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.