Silva's journey carries him to Padres
Right-hander from Mexico gets chance to fulfill dream in U.S.
SAN DIEGO -- Who is Walter Silva and how did the 32-year-old pitcher, who has never thrown a pitch professionally in the United States, end up in the Padres starting rotation?
It's a question Silva couldn't completely answer for himself Tuesday, even as he stood in the Padres' clubhouse at PETCO Park, a day before making his Major League debut with a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
How did Silva end up in the Padres organization? The simple answer is by truck, as Silva drove a Nissan Titan some 1,200 miles to get from his home in Mazatlan, Mexico, to the Padres' Spring Training home in Peoria, Ariz.
In hindsight, the two-day drive that includes a sleepover in Mexicali -- a border city that serves as an important piece to Silva's unlikely tale -- was likely easier than the means it took the right-handed to get a chance to pitch in the United States.
No, Silva's tale is not that of an undiscovered gem, a scouting oversight. It turns out that Silva, who didn't start pitching until he was 27, has been trying everything in his power to reach the United States for the past four seasons.
"In Mexico, you can't come to the United States unless your team wants to sell you ... I know there's been interest in him from Major League teams since he was 28," said infielder Edgar Gonzalez, who has played the past four winters with Silva for Mazatlan.
"The team in Mexico [Monterrey Sultanes] would ask for $1 million for him and no team is going to pay $1 million for a 32-year-old pitcher. He was stuck there. Walter wanted to come here and pitch in the United States.
"He would go to the general manager and ask for him to give him a shot. I know that he said, 'Once I make it to the big leagues, I will give you the money.' They didn't want to sell him. It wasn't up to Walter."
Adrian Gonzalez, the Padres' All-Star first baseman and Gold Glove winner, went to bat for Silva after the Caribbean World Series in Mexicali, where Silva pitched well in front of Padres manager Bud Black.
"I think I was interested more than anything. ... I thought he could be something," Black said of his trip to Mexicali to watch Silva. "On a scouting scale, he had average Major League pitches across the board. There were a number of teams on him."
Gonzalez talked to team officials from Monterrey and asked if they would allow Silva, who was also being courted by the New York Yankees, a chance to pursue his dream. The Sultanes relented, though under the contractual condition that they would receive $400,000 if Silva made the team.
"Now that I'm here, it's really a dream come true. I'm here and happy to be here," Silva said. "My wife and my son are very happy. I have a lot of family driving from Mazatlan. It's long drive, like 25 hours to get here, but they're coming to watch me pitch. I'm very excited for it. I'm excited to be a part of the Padres."
The Padres feel the same way about the converted outfielder who, despite a bum ankle in spring, pitched his way onto a team that had openings in its rotation. How long Silva will stick, of course, is completely dependent on him, though he has his share of supporters in the clubhouse.
Like Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez, who lobbied general manager Kevin Towers and Black to take a look at Silva, who had a career record of 30-32 with a 4.62 ERA in the Mexican Summer League, though he, according to Edgar Gonzalez, always pitched better for some reason in the winter for Mazatlan.
In short, this wasn't a case of the Gonzalez brothers pulling for a friend because, well, he was a friend. They saw what he could do.
"What we saw every year was a guy who might not be a high-end starter here but can be a back-end starter in the Major Leagues," Edgar Gonzalez. "He throws strikes every time. He doesn't walk a lot of guys. When he's on, he has all four pitches and can throw a very good game. You don't need anything more than that."
Well, other than an opportunity.
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.