Aguayo paying forward lessons he learned with Phillies

Aguayo paying forward lessons he learned with Phillies

Luis Aguayo grew up without a father. He signed out of Puerto Rico with the Phillies when he was 16 years old, making his Major League debut five years later. He hasn't worn a Phillies uniform in more than a quarter century, but his ties to the organization remain strong.

Recently, Aguayo contacted the club and asked for photos of Larry Rojas, Ruben Amaro Sr., Paul Owens and Dallas Green -- all prominent figures in the team's player development system when he broke in. He wanted them to display in his home because of the influence they'd had on his life and baseball career.

"These guys were like fathers to me," Aguayo explained. "They really embraced me and took me under their wing and taught me the right way to play the game. They are the guys who worked with me. When I was there, I can say that those were the best coaches I ever worked with."

The opportunity to play baseball for a living came along just in time. If it hadn't, he'd already settled on a plan to make money to help out his family.

"There were six guys in my class and we were getting ready to join the Navy," he remembered. "We had all the paperwork, and I told everybody that if nothing happened in baseball, we were all going to sign up to join the Navy."

Aguayo, now 55, is the infield coordinator and Latin American Field coordinator for the Cardinals -- positions he's held for the past two years. Prior to that, he was a Minor League manager in the St. Louis organization. That followed three years of working as a field coordinator for the Mets, including a brief stint as the big leagu club's third-base coach in 2008.

Aguayo played with the Yankees after being traded to New York on July 15, 1988, and he was with the Indians the following season before being released at the end of the year at 30 years old. He spent three more years in the Minors with the Angels and Red Sox before retiring. In his heart, though, he has always remained a Phillie.

In fact, he still gets emotional when talking about the day he was called into manager Lee Elia's office at Veterans Stadium and informed he'd been traded for Amalio Carreno.

"That was very hard for me," Aguayo said. "That day when [Elia] called me into his office, I thought he was joking. He said, 'Luis, we've made a trade.' I was standing up in front of his desk. He told me I had been traded and I said, 'No. Where? To Japan?' He said, no, I'd been traded to the Yankees. I said, 'Are you serious? Let me sit down.' So I sat down on the sofa and I asked him again what was going on? And he said, 'Luis, you've been traded to the Yankees.'

"That was tough."

In a 10-year career, Aguayo hit 37 home runs. The first, on May 1, 1980 at Shea Stadium, was extra special. With two outs and nobody on in the top of the fifth, Larry Bowa singled. Aguayo followed by going yard off Pete Falcone, providing all the runs Steve Carlton needed for a 2-1 win.

To say that baseball has changed since he retired is an understatement. His highest salary was $375,000. These days, that's not even close to the Major League minimum. Still, he's not bitter.

"It's hard to believe," he said philosophically. "But it was the same thing for the people who were 10 years before me who were making $30,000 or $40,000. Then we were making more, and now they're making over 10 times more than we were making."

Aguayo is happy doing what he's doing, but he would like to get another shot at the big leagues. He's only three months of service time short of qualifying for his full pension.

And isn't it funny the way things work? Once upon a time, the Phillies were surrogate fathers for a kid who didn't have a dad in his life. Now, he's drawing on that experience and paying it forward. It started even before he retired as a player.

"The Phillies asked me to pass that along," he explained. "So when Juan Samuel got there, I remember [manager] John Felske told me, 'Luis, you're in charge of him. You have to take care of Sammy.' We lived close to each other and our wives were friends. So we did that, and then Sammy went out and took off [as a player].

"Then when I was in Pawtucket [in 1991], I was with [manager] Butch Hobson. And it was kind of the same way. I was coming out of the game and they had Scott Cooper, Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, Phil Plantier [and] Eric Wedge. ... Hobson told me my job was to take care of those people and show them the right way, because these guys were going to be in the big leagues pretty soon. And that's what I did -- passed along what I learned with the Phillies."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.