DAYTON – After being released as a teenager in the Dominican Republic’s baseball summer leagues nearly two decades ago, it would have been hard for Luis Bolivar to see his life taking the turns it has.
The Vandalia resident was announced as the 2017 manager for the Dayton Dragons on Thursday. Bolivar has served as the team’s hitting coach the past three seasons and is the first former Dragon to return to the team as a coach.
“It’s an honor,” Bolivar said. “I know how important the Dragons are to the whole community and how much people love the Dragons. It’s a dream come true.”
Bolivar was a Midwest League All-Star when he played for the Dragons in 2003-04. While playing for the Dragons, he met his future wife Kelly (Collins) Bolivar, a Vandalia native and Butler High School graduate. They now have four children Kamryn, 16, a student at Butler; Luisa, 12, a sixth grader at Morton Middle School; Zoey, 5 a kindergartner at Helke Elementary School; and Enzo, age 2.
Their story is can only be described as a real-life fairy tale.
They met when she was attending a game and sitting above the dugout. He spent most of the game trying to get her attention. They exchanged numbers, went out, fell in love and got married. Now he’s named manager of the hometown baseball team.
“It’s amazing how everything fell together here in Dayton and Vandalia to be able to coach here and have my family here,” Bolivar said. “I have no words to describe that feeling. I don’t think it can get any better than this.”
Kelly said that life is different for a baseball family, especially in-season, but living in the small town of Vandalia gives them a grounded place to call home.
“We’ve been in a lot of places over the years and found things we loved in them, but coming back to Vandalia always felt like home,” she said. “Having that hometown feeling, bringing us back to where we started, where we know, where our friends are, is very important and it’s important for the kids to come back to where their friends are, where they are established in good schools and to have that normalcy. Vandalia has always been home for us and always where we gravitate to.”
She and the kids do travel with the team when the kids are not in school.
“Everything we do we do as a family,” she said. “This lifestyle is very out of the ordinary, but we try to stay together as much as possible.”
When asked if she and her family were living a real-life fairy tale, Kelly didn’t hesitate.
“I like to think so,” she said. “I’m very proud to talk about our story, and it means a lot to us. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Bolivar began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Butler High School in 2012.
“Luis’ 13 years of minor league baseball has given him a wide array of baseball knowledge. He coaches the game with enthusiasm, has a keen eye for when there is a fundamental breakdown and is a great teacher of the game,” Butler head coach Trent Dues said. “The fact that he is bilingual makes him a perfect fit for the pro game with all the Spanish-speaking players of today. Luis is a just a great, likeable guy who has a lot of fun around the game, and that fun he has is contagious to those around him. It would not surprise me if Luis is a big league manager down the road.”
He was hired as a coach in the Reds organization in 2012 and gained experience as a manager in the Fall Instructional League.
“I’m really excited to give Luis the opportunity to manage at home,” said Jeff Graupe, director of player development for the Cincinnati Reds. “His passion, his connection to the community, it’s the perfect time for him to get this opportunity. Luis understands everything that understands in Dayton and understands what makes this place special. It’s a big day for a guy like Luis who has put his time in as a coach and is getting an opportunity to manage.”
Bolivar spent nine years in the Minor Leagues as a player and gained experience at every level of the Reds organization. He played at least 150 games at three different positions, working at second base, shortstop and third base. He also saw action in left field, right field and first base. On April 7, 2008, with the Chattanooga Lookouts, Bolivar became just the 11th player in Southern League history to collect six hits in one game. He completed his playing career in 2010.
Rounding out the Dragons’ coaching staff is pitching coach Derrin Ebert, hitting coach Daryle Ward and bench coach Kevin Mahar.
The Dragons will open the season at 7 p.m. April 6 at home versus Lake County.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.