"You look back through the road he has traveled," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, "there's not a lot that is going to happen that he's not going to be able to say, 'Been there, done that.'"

Showalter said Ayala has made a point of talking to the younger players, but he doesn't just regurgitate what they want to hear. Instead, he levels with them.

"It's pretty obvious what you've got to bring [to be successful], and he'll tell them. I know. I've heard him," Showalter said. "If they are looking for a sympathetic ear or something, he is not going to be the guy to talk to."

Ayala doesn't wish away any of the bumps in his career. He became the poster boy for why not to have the World Baseball Classic during spring training when he blew out his elbow in 2006 and missed the regular season — one in which he was being counted on by the Washington Nationals as a key late-inning reliever. Yet he represented Mexico again in the 2009 WBC.

"[The injury] was part of baseball. It could have happened at any time," Ayala said. "I think the WBC is a good thing because you want to play for your country, to compete and play at that level."

Ayala suffered culture shock when he first made the majors, a year after he was discovered by the Montreal Expos while pitching in Mexico. He stuck with the Expos as a Rule 5 draft pick for all of 2003 (he had signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2002 offseason but was taken back by Montreal that December) and won 10 games in relief.

"When I started out in the majors, I didn't speak any English, any French, but guys took care of me," Ayala said.

And so he's paying back that debt of gratitude by talking to the younger players and taking some of them, like reliever Pedro Strop, under his wing.

"I think I can tell them a lot, about what things happened with me. I can tell them about their personal lives to try to make things right because opportunities don't come around a lot," Ayala said. "I tell them about my experience and taking the opportunities when you are young. Don't try to push things and throw your first years in the garbage. You have to keep in mind you've got bad times and they can come at you anytime."

One Oriole who is listening is Strop, a 26-year-old hard-thrower whose chances of making the team lessened somewhat when Ayala was signed.

"He's always trying to help you," Strop said. "He will come to you. With me, he has been talking to me about pitching. In this game, there are things you don't really realize until somebody tells you."

His lessons come with an upbeat personality, Strop said.

"He is always laughing, smiling, making jokes and stuff like that," Strop said. "He is not boring. He is great to have around."

Ayala has come a long way as a professional, literally and figuratively. The secret, he said, is not dwelling on the past but not forgetting it either.

"I always look to the present," he said. "And I know I have had many good things in my life."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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