PEORIA — Alvaro Seijas was 13 years old when he was discovered by a former major leaguer, who approached him in Maracay, Venezuela.
"He said he liked how I threw, and that he'd like to invite me to his academy," said Seijas, the second-year Peoria Chiefs pitcher. "He came to see me play."
It was Carlos Guillen.
And Seijas spent the next three years training and developing at Guillen's academy, and he was on his way to bigger things.
Seijas will start for the Chiefs on the road Saturday. He watched on Thursday as the Chiefs dropped a 6-2 series finale to the Kane County Cougars before 3,123 at Dozer Park.
When he was 16, Seijas drew interest from the Mets, Diamondbacks and Rangers, but he ended up signing with the Cardinals for $762,000 in part because of the money, and in part because his grandfather was an avid Cardinals fan.
Family history was in part a factor from the Cardinals' perspective, too. Seijas' father, Daniel, was a star point guard in Venezuela's pro basketball league for 16 seasons. His mother, Angelica, was a volleyball player. He had uncles who were tall and athletic.
Good athletic genes.
And so the family gathered around on his signing day and danced and barbecued and celebrated in their garage.
"One of my friends is (5-foot-6 Houston Astros star) Jose Altuve, we chat and he gave me some advice," Seijas said. "He told me, 'People said I was too little to play. I was just one of those guys teams sign to play catch with the good players.'
"I never forget that. The journey won't be easy."
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Seijas, who has an older brother, Francisco, and an older sister, Daniela, grew up playing basketball and emulating his father.
"That's what I wanted to be, a basketball player," Seijas said. "I was 7, and one day I asked my dad about baseball. I watched it a lot on TV, and I wanted to be a hitter like Miguel Cabrera (that's also who he says he'd like to pitch to in his major league dream matchup).
"Cabrera was a big hero for me. When I was 12, I tried out for a baseball team. They saw how I threw and said I was a pitcher."
Seijas pitched for the Cardinals' Dominican Summer League team and then its Gulf Coast League team in 2016, and moved on to rookie ball Johnson City in the Appalachian League in 2017.
He arrived in Peoria last season at age 19 and went 5-8 with a 4.52 ERA, 61 walks and 84 strikeouts.
Still only 20, his 2019 season has been a different story with the Chiefs. He's 3-4 with a 3.45 ERA, he's walked 19 and whiffed 45 in 47 1/3 innings and his WHIP is down to 1.45.
"Last season I would pitch, but not with purpose, not with a plan of action," Seijas said. "During the offseason, I came to (Cardinals spring training site) in Jupiter, Fla., a couple times and worked on things. Everything feels better."
Chiefs pitching coach Cale Johnson said Seijas shifted his slider to more of a curveball, and that it's working for him.
"And he's got a better understanding of what he's trying to do," Johnson said. "That's the difference in him."
CHIEFS BRIEFS: Chiefs reliever Cole Aker walked three and hit Tra Holmes with a pitch up high, in the head/face area, to force in a run in the seventh. ... Brendan Donavan and Nolan Gorman had the Chiefs' only two hits through the first seven innings. Gorman's hit extended his hitting streak to five games. ... Chiefs outfielder Brandon Riley's hitless streak reached seven games. ... Chiefs outfielder Jhon Torres' hitting streak was snapped at five games. ... Kane County DH Jose Herrera hurt himself while trying to beat out a bunt in the fourth inning, and had to leave the game. The Cougars lost their DH spot in the lineup, and starting pitcher Michel Gelabert ended up batting later in the game. ... Gelabert came out to the mound wearing a silver/gray glove to start the game, and plate umpire Lance Seilhammer made him change it to a darker leather color.
Dave Eminian covers the Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.