KANSAS CITY -- If Felipe Paulino had followed his early boyhood pursuit in Venezuela, he might have followed the path of Bruce Lee rather than Bruce Chen, his rotation-mate on the Royals.
"The funny thing is, as a little boy, Felipe did not care much about baseball, he wanted to do karate," said Paulino's father, Felipe Paulino Sr. "So he did that for a while but later on found out he didn't enjoy it much, so I took him to a baseball camp. When he saw the kids in action, he told me he wanted to be there."
That was fine with the senior Paulino, who had been a devoted baseball player, an outfielder, in the Dominican Republic for many years until a shoulder injury stopped him.
"But he kept the feeling for baseball," Paulino remembered about his father. "He said, 'OK, I didn't make it, but I'll give the opportunity for my son to reach the Major Leagues.'"
Young Felipe quickly fell in love with baseball, while growing up in Venezuela.
"I remember my father, one Christmas, gave me a baseball, a glove and a bat, and he told me, 'This is a gift to teach you to play baseball,'" Paulino said.
He learned so well that today he's a leader of the Royals' pitching staff, a powerful right-hander who didn't allow a run in four of the first six games he started this year before an injury interrupted his season. It was his father who got him started.
They played catch in nearby parking lots and fields and, of course, he was soon playing on teams, mostly in the outfield.
"At that time," his father recalled, "he loved to swing the bat. He was a good hitter, a power hitter. I remember him hitting two or three home runs in a game."
He also encouraged his son to pay attention to the Major Leagues through games on TV in Venezuela.
"I remember it was in '92 and '93, when the Blue Jays had a great team. I remember Joe Carter and Paul Molitor when I watched the games," Paulino said. "My father gave me a Blue Jays hat. They were going to the World Series in those days."
Paulino didn't become a pitcher until he went to tryout camps and scouts saw his cannon-like throws from the outfield. That arm, the scouts told him, belongs to a pitcher, and that's what he became when he signed as a free agent with the Houston Astros in 2001.
"I've always been part of his baseball life," said Fellpe Sr., who was co-owner of a baseball academy in Venezuela. "When he was young, I made sure he worked out, taking him to the baseball academy and also making sure he did his homework during the school year. My wife and I told him he needed to do well in school if he wanted to play ball."
Paulino's father and mother, Gracia, were in Kansas City recently, and accompanied the team to New York and saw their son beat the Yankees for the second time this year. They stay in close touch even when they're at home in Venezuela.
"I call him a day before he pitches and the day after the game, especially if it was not a good one," Felipe Sr. said. "I remind Felipe how competitive baseball is and if you want to succeed, you need to give 100 percent all the time -- how important it is to be prepared not only physically but mentally. In baseball, you need to be mentally tough. When you don't have a good game, the very next day you need to start preparing for your next one. Learn from your mistakes and transform the negatives into positives for your next outing."
The lessons endure.
"He always loved baseball. That's why I'm here, because he pushed so hard," Paulino said. "I really appreciate my dad and my mom for showing me the correct way to live my life, how to do the right thing."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.