Watching the Detroit Tigers knock the Yankees out of the playoffs last night made me appreciate how much Latin talent was in both dugouts and bullpens. Think of all the names you heard last night: Cabrera, Martinez, Peralta, Ordoñez, Santiago, Benoit, and Valverde for the Tigers. Cano, Posada, Rodriguez, Garcia and Rivera for the Yankees. One name should really jump out at you, if not for the player then definitely for the player’s family: Avila.
Alex Avila has been a great addition to this year’s Tigers team, he has done a tremendous job with a very talented pitching staff, and has handled the bat very well too. What’s even more impressive about Avila is that he is from one of the most respected Latin baseball families, and you probably wouldn’t even know it by the way he carries himself.
It’s true that Alex’s father, Al Avila, is the assistant GM for the Tigers, and many could claim nepotism that the Tigers drafted his son. Given Alex’s performances thus far this season though, that draft pick now seems like a pretty good idea regardless of what his last name is. But Al Avila isn’t just another baseball executive. He and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski have already had experience in building World Series championship teams with the Florida Marlins, and Al is considered one of the top Latin operations directors in the game.
But it doesn’t stop there. The real interesting story in the Avila family is Al’s father, Ralph, a longtime Latin baseball scout for the Dodgers. Ralph’s story starts in Cuba, where he helped to overthrow the military dictatorship in the 50’s, only to see his political party lose out to Castro and the Communists. So Ralph left Cuba and then went back in the Bay of Pigs invasion. When that didn’t work out, he settled in Miami and started coaching and scouting baseball players.
It was Dodgers GM Al Campanis who hired Ralph in the early 70’s to start scouting Latin America, and eventually run its baseball academy in the Dominican Republic. You can probably credit Ralph Avila for just about every Dominican (if not overall Latin) player the Dodgers have brought through their system in the last 30+ years, including the likes of Pedro Martinez and Adrian Beltre. In fact, Ralph was the one who signed Beltre.
So when you watch Alex Avila playing against Beltre and the Texas Rangers in the ALCS, hopefully the irony will not be lost on you that Alex’s grandfather had a part in both of their careers.