Aug. 5, 2009
DETROIT, Mich. - It was just a routine day for Alex Avila.
The former Crimson Tide All-American and fifth-round draft pick was catching and batting fifth as the Erie (Penn.) Seawolves prepared for Tuesday's Eastern League game with the New Britain (Conn.) Rock Cats at Jerry Uht Park.
Then, suddenly, less than thirty minutes before game time, Erie manager Tom Brookens made a lineup change and Avila was moved to the designated hitter role. Avila went 0-for-2 but walked twice and scored two runs in the 7-2 win and then found himself in Brookens' office after the game. The former Tigers infielder then informed Avila that he had been promoted to the Detroit Tigers.
"It was a huge surprise that is for sure," Avila said Wednesday as he was making the four-plus hour drive from Erie to Detroit. "I was not expecting to move at all. I thought I would be here the whole year. After the game, he called me into his office and told me I was going to Detroit and that is why I did not catch. The Tigers did not want me to risk an injury. I was surprised and speechless."
Avila hit .266 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI in 92 games for the Seawolves this season. He played in the 2009 Eastern League All-Star Game at Trenton's (N.J.) Waterfront Park on July 15 and recently had a three-home run, seven RBI game in a win over Binghamton (N.Y.).
While Avila may have been speechless at the news, he was even more impressed when he was told he was the fifth player from Alabama's 2006 SEC Championship team to reach the Major Leagues in the last two seasons, joining David Robertson (RHP, NY Yankees), Tommy Hunter (RHP, Texas Rangers), Wade LeBlanc (LHP, San Diego Padres) and Matt Downs (2B, San Francisco Giants).
"It is amazing that so many guys from one Alabama team has made it to the Major Leagues so quick," Avila said. "That tells you the kind of talent Alabama brings in each and every year. It also says a lot about the players we had that year. That was a special year and a very good team. We had a great season, even though we did not make it to Omaha. We played in the Super Regionals against a good North Carolina team.
"We had a great year. We had great players with good character and we were willing to work hard. We were all tough-minded guys and very competitive guys. We played well and wanted to win. It is incredible that so many guys off one team are playing in the Major Leagues. That shows you the type of program Alabama has."
In all, Alabama has had 61 former players reach the Major Leagues, including 12 players in the Jim Wells era. The list of former Wells players includes Tim Young (LHP, Montreal Expos, 1998), Dustan Mohr (OF, Minnesota Twins, 2001), Lance Cormier (RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2004), Andy Phillips (INF, New York Yankees, 2004), Paul Phillips (C, Kansas City Royals, 2004), Taylor Tankersley (LHP, Florida Marlins, 2006), Jeremy Brown (C, Oakland Athletics, 2006), Robertson, Hunter, LeBlanc and Downs.
Avila will be in uniform tonight when the Tigers host the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park and is expected to start behind the plate on Thursday against the Orioles. The Tigers will host the Minnesota Twins in a three-game series this weekend in an American League Central Division showdown. The Tigers lead the Twins by 2 ½ games entering tonight's action.