Team exec Avila's kid off to fast start in Detroit

DETROIT -- The Tigers clubhouse was almost empty the morning after a close loss to Seattle.

Justin Verlander plopped down in front of a computer monitor in the locker room. Third base coach Gene Lamont read a newspaper inside the manager's office.

Catcher Alex Avila sat at a table in the cafeteria, chatting with a Tigers executive. Jim Leyland strolled by.

"Hey, Alex," the manager barked. "How ya doin'?"

"OK, Skip," the rookie said.

Avila's morning talk with the team's vice president and assistant general manager might have been about more than just baseball.

After all, Avila was talking to his father. Al Avila, a longtime baseball man, has had the good fortune to have a front-row seat for his son's successful first month in the big leagues.

"We talk about anything from what goes on that day to the game that I just finished playing. Really it's all typical family conversation," Alex Avila said. "Whenever he sees something, he doesn't hesitate to tell me. He's very truthful and likes me to be in touch with reality. He reminds me of what I need to do to continue to improve."

Alex Avila never expected to play in the majors this season. He started out at Double-A Erie, where he hit .264 with 12 home runs and 55 RBIs, but he still was two levels from the big leagues.

Plus, there were two catchers ahead of him at Triple-A Toledo, and the team signed former Florida Marlins catcher Matt Treanor to back up Gerald Laird.

Treanor lasted only four games before injury ended his season. Dane Sardinha and Dusty Ryan were brought up from Toledo, but hit .097 and .160 respectively and were sent back down.

So Detroit decided to give Al Avila's kid a shot. The Tigers promoted him in early August, two years after he was drafted in the fifth round after three seasons at Alabama.

On Aug. 6, the 22-year-old catcher from Hialeah, Fla., made his major league debut against the Baltimore Orioles, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI. Al Avila accepted handshakes from those around him and a hug from Tigers great Al Kaline at Comerica Park after his son's first hit. Alex Avila followed with another 2-for-4 showing and his first home run the next night against Minnesota.

Entering Tuesday night's game at the Los Angeles Angels, Avila was hitting .333 with four doubles, three homers and nine RBIs in only 30 at-bats. The 5-foot-11 catcher also is drawing praise for his work behind the plate.

"He's doing a really good job for not catching all these guys since spring training," Laird said. "He's asking a lot of questions and listening a lot. He's doing a tremendous job."

The Tigers may have found that backup catcher after all.

"As of right now, he's a major league player, and he's doing the job," Leyland said. "He got called up, and he responded very favorably. We like him. He's got a chance to have a bright future because left-handed hitting catchers are golden."

Leyland showed his faith in Avila on Thursday. With his team down three runs to Seattle and runners on second and third in the sixth inning with two outs, Leyland used Avila to pinch hit for shortstop Adam Everett.

Mariners reliever Chris Jakubauskas got ahead in the count 0-2. Avila, who holds the bat flat against his shoulder, took two pitches outside the strike zone before driving a breaking ball up the middle to score both runners and put his team within a run of Seattle.

"Knowing that your manager has confidence in you is a great thing," Avila said.

Now it's up to Avila to do what Sardinha and Ryan couldn't: stick with the club for the rest of the season. Either way, he'll always have at least one fan in Tigers management.

"He's made me very happy as a father," said Al Avila, whose father, Ralph, was a Los Angeles Dodgers vice president. "As a baseball player, he's done everything that's expected of him. So in that sense, as a father, I'm very happy. He's made me very happy since he was a little kid. I'm happy for him. He's worked very hard for this, and it's paying off for him."