Former Palisades High Pitcher Augie Sylk Is Eager to Make His Mark in the Big Leagues
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When former Palisades High pitcher Augie Sylk signed with the Kansas City Royals after being picked in the 38th round (1,129th overall) on the last day of the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft in July, it was like a dream come true.
Now, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound left-hander is doing everything in his power to prove right all the people who believe in his ability.
“For me playing pro ball was always the No. 1 goal—it wasn’t just getting to the Big Leagues, it was being one of the best of all time,” Sylk says. “When you have an opportunity you have to take it. When I found out I got signed I told them all I need is a jersey and a locker and I’ll prove to you it’s the best decision this organization has made. It starts with that fire inside me. There’s no doubt about it. I have that mindset and I’m going to put in the work.”
Sylk got a late start in baseball but has proven to be a fast learner. He pitched in seven games his senior year at Pali High, making the All-City team, and went on to USC, where he came back from injury for one relief outing late in his sophomore season, recording two strikeouts with two walks in two scoreless innings against Arizona. He made one bullpen appearance as a freshman, striking out two batters in one inning of work against archrival UCLA.
The son of writer/actor Ken Sylk and actress Denise Crosby (Bing Crosby’s granddaughter), Augie grew up in the Palisades and recalls playing in the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association.
“Growing up I played football, basketball and lacrosse but my favorite sport was ice hockey, which I played at Valley Ice Center in Panorama City,” he says. “One day I had sort of an out-of-body experience… I felt this need to play baseball, like this is what I’m meant to do. Being that I lived 500 feet from the park I tried out. There were two tryout dates and my mom wanted me to go the later date to give me an extra week to learn. I didn’t tell my parents but I ended up going to the first tryout date. I had my glove with me, I was in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops. They had us field grounders and pop ups and everyone was like ‘Who is this guy?’ They were saying I wasn’t good enough and I should try Rustic Canyon or Samo.That’s what first lit that fire to say ‘I’m going to do it.’”
Sylk played catcher for the Bronco Tigers his first year, then first base and outfield the next two years (one Bronco, one Pony). When he got to Palisades he didn’t know the difference between throwing and pitching, but credits head coach Mike Voelkel for recognizing his potential and correcting flaws in his technique.
“As a freshman Augie would lift his index finger off the ball on the fastball yet still had tremendous velocity,” Voelkel remembers. “He was very raw. We had summer league where we matched the incoming freshmen with the next year’s sophomores. He had good size, he loved baseball and he had two things going for him: he was a lefty and he could throw it to the ocean from our field. He grew so much in four years at Palisades as a player and a person.”
Maybe the most valuable lesson Sylk learned from his high school days was more psychological than physical.
“Coach Voelkel instilled in me that attitude and effort are the only things you can control,” he says. “You can make excuses or you can make it happen.”
The memory that stands out most in his mind is from an American Legion game: “It was the best hitting game I ever had and it was at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium. My childhood best friend had lost his father that morning. We were 14 years old or whatever it was and he said ‘Go play’ but I was mentally distraught. Coach Voelkel gave me a hug and said ‘You’re scheduled to pitch today, are you still willing to go? It was as if I found another power inside of me because in that moment you’re playing for someone else. I hit two doubles, two singles and a triple—a homer shy of the cycle.”
At USC, Sylk had to adjust to living on campus with seven other guys, quite a change for an only child from a small two-bedroom house in the Alphabet Streets.
“It was an awesome experience and I still talk to those guys,” he remembers. “That said, my attitude was ‘I’m here to beat you, not to make friends.’ I’m here to get to the top and stay there. I realized everything now is a business. In the fall of my sophomore year I ran it up to 96 miles per hour. I actually met with 17 teams, but not the Royals.”
The future looked bright until Sylk tore the UCL ligament in his elbow on opening weekend. Fate, though, was on his side. Turns out, his girlfriend Natalie’s father is renowned orthopaedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache, team doctor for the L.A. Rams and Dodgers.
“He said you can have an operation or get a PRP shot, a plasma injection where they spin your blood and let it heal on its own,” Sylk recalls. “I got the injection and started rehab. I didn’t know the time line, only that I needed to be back in May because the draft was in June. When I came back for the last weekend of the season everyone was amazed I came back that fast. When the season ended I said I’ll do pre-draft workouts in Manhattan Beach. That’s when the Royals called. I threw a bullpen and they loved it. The day I got drafted I’d just finished training and was heading back in the car when I saw it was a call from the Missouri area code. It was [area scout] Bobby Shore who said ‘We’d like to take you in the next round.’ Later I got a text from the GM and it was like a huge weight lifted. I said ‘This is a decision you won’t regret!’ Call it cocky or confident but I believe in myself.”
His childhood dream realized, Sylk headed to Arizona for some tests and received news that for others might be distressing. Sylk, however, merely took it as another challenge to confront head-on.
“They do what’s called baseline analysis and right when I got there I had tests on my hips and shoulder and they said I had the weakest shoulder of anyone there. I said ‘Great, that means my ceiling is so much higher.’ Imagine how hard I’m going to throw now. I hired strength coach Nic Schimonek (ex-NFL quarterback with the Chargers and Redskins) as my personal trainer and Bill Kwiek (former athletic trainer for the Buffalo Bills) and we worked religiously everyday for five months straight. We worked harder than anyone this offseason. Right when I got to the complex I tested my shoulder and they were shocked how much I improved. I said ‘I’m not done yet.’”
If it weren’t for the coronavirus outbreak Sylk would’ve been assigned to a minor league affiliate after spring training.
“The Royals organization is like Pali,” he says. “Family-oriented. They care about your attitude. I wouldn’t have wanted this any other way. I’m proving 29 other teams wrong each and every day. The minor leagues are all about staying in the moment. It’s easy to ask ‘Why did that guy get called up when I’m playing better?’”
Sylk enjoyed his trip to Kansas City for a Royals orientation in mid-January when the Chiefs were in the middle of their playoff run, which culminated in a 31-20 comeback victory over San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
“Yes, they treated us like royalty, no pun intended,” Sylk said. “They even gave us four bottles of Kansas City barbecue sauce. As far as what’s going to happen this season I only know as much as everyone else. They’re saying possibly a July 1 start date. Fortunately, living in L.A. with nice weather I’m still able to work out.”
While eager to get back to the job, Sylk is enjoying being home with his parents on Embury Street by the fire station.
“It’s crazy, my 22nd birthday is June 17 and I haven’t spent my birthday at home since I was 14. If this delay does last until then it will be cool to actually celebrate with my family. I’m all about seeing a silver lining.”
Sylk met his girlfriend at USC on Halloween and they have been dating for almost two years. She is one of his biggest supporters and he even works out in the basement gym at her family’s house in Beverly Hills but make no mistake— Sylk is proud that he grew up in Pacific Palisades.
“My best friend [Cade Christensen] went to Pali his freshman year but transferred to Mira Costa. He’s in college in New York now. I talk to fellow Pali alums Will [Coquillard], his older brother Henry and of course Wyatt [Loncar]. In fact, Wyatt and I were laughing about how much he feared me when we were playing Bronco. I enjoyed mentoring him and we push each other. I’ve also remained close with [former Pali High quarterback] Gabriel Galef who lived on Galloway. Those are the best things, all the things you remember and cherish most. The Palisades is such a family-oriented town. All of my best friends lived close by in the Alphabets or the Huntington and all of their families had open doors. I’d go over to my friends’ houses, we’d throw each other birthday parties and come over on holidays. If I’m around this year for the Fourth of July, I’ll run the Will Rogers race. I can still remember going to the Farmers Market on Sundays with my mom so this place is home to me. You can walk almost everywhere. [Pali High teammate] Charlie Carr lives seven doors down from me and the first two years ar Pali we’d go hit in the morning. He’d pick me up at 6:30 a.m. in his mom’s minivan.”
Sylk was invited to speak at the Pali High Baseball program’s annual Traditions Dinner last November in Marina del Rey and he talked eloquently and honestly about his journey through PPBA, Pali High, USC and now in the Kansas City organization.
“I was so honored that Coach Voelkel asked me to do that,” Sylk recalls. “I wanted to write something in advance but I decided to throw it away and just speak from the heart. I told the guys what you should do in my shoes, have fun but work hard and have a good attitude. If you want to play at the next level, fine. If not that’s okay, too. The lessons I’ve learned are all about how you carry yourself.”
One of Sylk’s goals moving forward is giving back to the local community.
“It’s all about the next generation,” he says. “If I can pave the way to help the next kid at Pali or the 12-year old who didn’t play when he was 4, that’s what I want to do. It’s so inspiring. When all this settles down I want to have a youth camp, hopefully at Pali High in the offseason around Winter Break. I’ve never really loved watching sports, but it’s great going back to Pali. Since graduating I’ve gone to maybe four or five games. It’s nice seeing the guys and I’m so proud of what they did last year, making it all the way to the finals at Dodger Stadium.”
Academic excellence, character and sportsmanship have been the cornerstones of Voelkel’s program since he took over in 2008 so he is just as proud of Sylk’s growth off the mound as he is all of his successes atop it.
“I have the utmost respect for the way he’s handled college, the draft and now the ‘job’ of being in the minor leagues,” Voelkel says. “That night he spoke at our dinner everyone from players to parents to coaches, even the other speakers, was impressed with his development, his sincerity and the way he spoke. I hope and wish he makes it all the way to the major leagues. That’s the dream that every little boy has. At some point we’re all told we can’t play anymore but he’s not there yet. He’s got a lot going for him and he has resolve and toughness. You never know what’s going to happen. There are so many variables. It all sounds easy, but it isn’t. It’s allways great to see kids prosper and I have pure admiration for him.”
Sylk recorded 15 strikeouts in 15 innings as a junior at Palisades and went on to earn All-Western League and All-City accolades as a senior in 2017 when he was also awarded an American Legion Post 283 Scholarship.
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