Long before America started building walls, there were open roads. Felipe Alou is one of the men who paved them.
No foreign country sends more players to major-league baseball than the Dominican Republic. The Caribbean island nation is a bountiful pipeline.
And few families there are more royal than the Alous — Felipe and his younger ball-playing brothers, Matty and Jesus.
"There is a lot of pride," Felipe said.
Alou's new book, Alou: My Baseball Journey, written with author Peter Kerasotis, details a journey that lifted him from poverty, past racism and into Dominican history books — one of the first players from the country to play in the majors, 60 years ago with the San Francisco Giants. The first Dominican to play in a World Series. The first Dominican to manage in the big leagues.
"It's about my journey of life," said Alou, 83, who lives in Boynton Beach and is still in the game as special assistant to Giants executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean. "Baseball is part of my everything."
The list of Dominican baseball greats includes Juan Marichal, Ozzie Virgil Sr., David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero. And Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa. And it includes Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, who played under Alou in Montreal and wrote the touching foreword to this book. It begins: "I love Felipe Alou."
Alou signed in 1955 to be a professional ballplayer for $200, the exact amount his family owed the local grocer in Bajos de Haina, near Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Today, Dominican stars earn millions.
"He's a role model," said Dominican native and Rays outfielder Carlos Gomez. "He opened a lot of the doors."
Alou was a very good player. In 17 seasons he batted .286 with 206 homers and 852 RBIs. He also was a very good manager, with 1,033 wins in 14 seasons, while also getting to coach his talented son Moises in both Montreal and San Francisco.
There's pain when you're one of the first. As a Giants rookie playing minor-league ball in Lake Charles, La., Alou was forced from the league because of the color of his skin, nearly 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.
Alou can still remember the time Giants manager Alvin Dark told Latino players not to speak Spanish. He can remember spring training when he went with some Braves teammates to a Tampa restaurant, only to be told they would have to eat in a room near the kitchen so as not to offend the white customers.
"We left. We got out," he said.
Alou never won a World Series as a player or a manager. He still kicks himself for failing to bunt brother Matty over in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 1962 World Series, a 1-0 loss by the Giants to the Yankees. In 1994, a work stoppage wiped out the end of the season with the Alou-managed Expos a majors-best 74-40 and seemingly poised to win it all.
"We were robbed a little," said Alou, who was named NL manager of the year that season.
But there were memorable triumphs. Like Sept. 15, 1963, when the Alou brothers made history by playing the three outfield positions for the Giants in the same game — Felipe in right, Matty in center, Jesus in left.
"That was very special history," Alou said.
Alou and baseball history intersected throughout his life. He played with Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Hank Aaron. He roomed with Joe Torre. His role model was his friend and Latino trailblazer Roberto Clemente.
"He fought good fights," Alou said. "He cared so much about people. He was very proud, too."
Alou once walked away from the Giants and retuned home, during the season, to protest the team's perceived quota system for black and Latino players. He had been taught to stand for what he believed. His father had fired a shotgun at U.S. Army helicopters during the turmoil in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. Alous stood their ground.
Felipe Alou is not an American citizen but believes in his adopted country. "I've made my dream," he said. He sees the climate today, hears the immigration debate, and is sad.
"Everybody should be able to come," he said.
These days, Alou spends time fishing from his 21-foot boat, which is normally docked at a nearby Palm Beach-area marina. Alou said that years ago, when he first joined his boat club, he was sometimes mistaken for a worker. People would ask him to clean their boats. He would just smile and tell them he was a member. And journey on.
Today, every major-league team has a baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. The Giants' academy is named for Alou. The talent keeps coming.
Just like 60 years ago.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.