The good immigrant

Luis Bolivar to manage Dragons for second season

by Marc Katz

This would be a good time to talk about all those ghastly, unwanted immigrants crowding into our country, taking our jobs, threatening our society.

Guys like Luis Bolivar, who last week was confirmed for his second season as manager of the Midwest Baseball League’s Dayton Dragons.

Bolivar fits the description of the people our president isn’t exactly behind: He’s from one of those countries (Venezuela) consisting of mostly brown people and how could he possibly have skills native Americans (not Indians, mind you) already possess?

Except Bolivar doesn’t exactly fit in the same mold.

He learned English, used his knowledge as an electrician to work during off-seasons, married a local woman, applied for and was granted a Green Card to stay and work here, played minor league baseball in America nine years (12 overall), became a coach, then manager of the Dragons, and became an investor and lead instructor of the Sports Academy in nearby Troy.

Oh, and last summer, he passed his test and obtained official papers for full citizenship to the United States of America.

“The first time I came to the States, I never thought I’d stay here,” Bolivar said between drills for youngsters at his Academy. “My goal was to come here and play baseball and reach my goal as a big leaguer. That didn’t happen, obviously.”

For years, Bolivar’s goals never changed, although his pathways led elsewhere.

He arrived in this country in 2002 to play in the Reds’ farm system at Sarasota as a 21-year-old from Venezuela – just across the Gulf of Mexico from Haiti, one of our president’s favorite countries.

Bolivar didn’t know any English. He just knew how to play baseball and, oh, he had a degree in electrical engineering, which was his baseball backup. During the summer, he was wired for baseball. In the off season, he could wire your house for ceiling fans.

For nine years, he went back and forth from the U.S. (he played for the Dragons in 2003 and 2004) to Venezuela, married a Dayton girl – Kelly (they have four children) – and retired in 2010 after reaching Class AAA and determining he wasn’t going to make the major leagues as a player. He had to get on with his life.

He worked for Ron Bonham Electric, then asked the Reds if they needed another coach.

They did. He coached in Arizona, then was hitting coach with the Dragons for three seasons before taking over managerial duties last season, leading the Dragons to within a game of the Midwest League’s championship series, their furthest advancement ever.

He also studied for the test and became a U.S. citizen. It was obvious the Reds were going to bring him back for another season off that record, although they didn’t officially name Bolivar and his staff until last week.

On the hitting side, he will retain the same coaches as last season, Daryle Ward and Kevin Mahar. Seth Etherton will be new as the team’s pitching coach, replacing Derrin Ebert, who will remain in Goodyear, Ariz., with the Reds’ rookie team there.

Back when he started, Bolivar had no idea he would become a manager, but, here he is.

“I made it to (Class) AAA (as a player) and played 12 years in the minor leagues,” Bolivar said. “It was awesome. I met my wife and we started a relationship and we got married and started having kids and I think the room for opportunity here was huge.”

He was talking in the larger sense, about the country, not just Dayton.

“The opportunity here was better than it was back home,” Bolivar said. “I started working. I knew I could learn the language, which I did. My wife helped me a lot through that. I’m still learning. When I got married, I applied for my Green Card to stay here. I worked, got my work permit. And I was playing. I never thought in my mind I was going to stay here.

“I’m glad everything worked out. It’s a great country. It gives you a lot of opportunity.”

Only an immigrant could have reflections like this. While Bolivar doesn’t advertise where he came from and where he has landed, he hears the news.

“I think they shouldn’t take away that opportunity,” he said. “A lot of people come here with big dreams to get a better life. At the same time, you’ve got to do it the right way. It’s hard sometimes to see who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong. “The majority of people are doing it the right way. Those are the people who deserve it the most.”

None of this really has anything to do with managing, which Bolivar excelled at in his first try in 2017.

“I love managing,” Bolivar said. “I’m around all the guys. I take control. I talk to them, try to guide them. I love that, that connection with all the players. I can teach the players the way I grew up to play and win the game.

“I’m always learning. I want to keep moving up and when the opportunity comes, be ready for it.”

Bolivar was presented with a sliver of opportunity. He has made the most of it, as an immigrant. How about that?

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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