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Pitcher Silva Grows Tired of His Life in the Fast Lane

August 18, 1994|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Ted Silva just flew in from Millington, Tenn., and, boy, is he tired.

From early May, when his Cal State Fullerton team qualified for the NCAA regional playoffs, until last week, when the U.S. national team was eliminated from the World Baseball Championships here, Silva has visited eight states, three countries, two continents and crossed the international dateline twice.

The experience hasn't quickened his fastball or improved his slider, but it has taught Silva how to handle the suitcase, something he says will make him a better pitcher next season.

"That's going to be the key for all of us," Silva says of himself and his Team USA teammates. "It's just the experience of traveling, playing international ball. When we get back to school, those little getaway weekend trips you're going to have during the season are going to be nothing compared to (this)."

Silva's odyssey began in November, when he was invited--along with 63 other top college players--to Homestead, Fla., to try out for the U.S. team. Silva earned the honor by going 4-2 with seven saves as a freshman relief pitcher at Fullerton.

His stock improved last spring during a sophomore season in which he saved 13 games in 33 appearances and registered a 2.29 earned-run average. But in his final game, after matching a career high with four shutout innings in relief, Silva gave up a game-winning, 12th-inning home run against Georgia Tech that eliminated the Titans from the College World Series in Omaha.

He continued to struggle this summer, primarily from a lack of work. In Team USA's 29-game warm-up for the world amateur championships, Silva pitched only 10 innings, giving up five runs. In Nicaragua, he got in three games, the most memorable appearance coming against South Korea in a game the U.S. had to win to advance to the medal round.

Silva came on with one out in the eighth inning to protect a 5-3 lead, but gave up a two-run home run to the first batter he faced. His teammates rallied in the ninth inning, however, and Silva retired the Koreans in order in their final at-bat to pick up his second win of the summer.

The U.S. was eliminated a game later when it fell to eventual champion Cuba, 15-2, in the sudden-death quarterfinals to conclude its long summer with a 24-13 record.

"I just haven't been all in it this summer," said Silva, who struck out 14 batters in 13 innings with Team USA but finished with a 5.54 ERA. "I'm not bearing down as much. I don't think my mind's been here all the way either."

Silva is looking forward to returning home. In the past four months, he's spent a total of 2 1/2 days there, so he has a lot of catching up to do with his parents. And one of the things they're sure to talk about is Silva's experience in Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

"It's real different here," said Silva, who celebrated his 20th birthday in Central America. "It just makes you respect what you have more. Everybody says, you know, that we take that for granted. But then you come out here and it's just a whole different atmosphere.

"I haven't met one mean person or one negative person. Everyone tries to talk to you, you know, communicate with you anyway they can.

"Just trying to communicate with them and get a few laughs here and there."

The poverty he saw apparently weighed on Silva the way his suitcase did when he landed here more than two weeks ago. Because of that, his luggage--and his conscience--were both a little lighter on the return trip.

After Team USA's final game, Silva gave away baseballs, sweatbands and whatever else he could legally take off in public before returning to the hotel.

"You know, it makes you feel good just to give a person a ball," he said.

That might be another lesson Silva learned about traveling: Sometimes just packing the memories is enough.

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