Avila is the son of Tigers GM Al Avila.
Father and son started playing catch in the front yard of their small house in Hollywood, Fla. From their days, too, when Al pushed a lawn mower, not even a power mower, and Alex ran alongside with one of those little plastic mowers. Dad wasn't back into professional baseball yet. For five years, he coached at St. Thomas University, the Miami Gardens school where he also earned a masters degree in sports administration.
Dad taught his son to switch-hit. "I think he always wanted me to be a switch-hitter, which I was all the way until college," Alex said, "but I kind of forgot how to hit righthanded."
Catchers who hit left-handed are always in demand. Good job, dad. "I didn't plan it out, but I put him on the right path," Al said. "His first bat was an inflatable bat with an inflatable ball and inflatable tee. And I made him hit lefthanded."
Alex's grandfather, Ralph, is a retired Dodgers vice president.
Al is the godson of Tommy Lasorda.
"My parents named me after him—my middle name is Thomas," Alex said. "He's basically been part of the family for a long time. He and my grandfather are like brothers."
Avila said that his grandfather and Lasorda had known each other for about 50 years. He said those two and his father "taught me everything I knew about baseball ... I would sit for five hours at a time with them and listen to them.
"I was a baseball rat," Alex said. "My grandfather ran a baseball camp in the Dominican, and every summer I spent two months there hanging around the clubhouse. When my Dad was with the Marlins, as a kid I was shagging balls and hanging out at the ballpark with Cliff Floyd, Kevin Millar, Mark Kotsay, Mike Lowell and Brad Penny."
Alex was 12 years old when the Marlins signed Josh Beckett in 1999. During negotiations, Avila had Beckett over to his house to fish on his property.
Avila is named after Al Campanis and Tommy Lasorda. Thomas is his middle name.
Alex started swinging the bat at the ripe old age of two. And he learned to play the game at the Dodgers' development complex in the Dominican Republic under his grandfather Ralph's watch.
"My grandfather passed it on to my Dad, and he passed it on to me," Alex said. "I started playing as soon as I could swing the bat."
In 2008, Alex hit .343 with 17 home runs for the University of Alabama.
In 2008, the Tigers drafted Avila (see Transactions below).
In 2009, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Avila as the 20th-best prospect in the Tigers' organization. They moved Alex all the way up to #6 in the winter before 2010 spring training.
August 5, 2009: The Tigers promoted Alex to the Major Leagues, bringing the normally detached and analytical father to have a gleam in his eye and a momentary lump in his throat.
"I think it might be a little difficult balancing the two (scouting and fatherhood) at first," Al said.
The next day, on August 6, the young catcher made his big league debut while catching an even younger Rick Porcello. Alex had a single and a double, scored a run, and was robbed of a third hit in the 7th inning of a Tigers victory.
Alex has good instincts for the game and excellent makeup.
Avila sported a Mohawk hair style early in the 2010 season. But he shaved his head on May 14 for two reasons, he said. His fiancée, Kristina, suggested the change. And he did a public-speaking event, and he decided he'd rather not have the Mohawk for that.
Alex' father supported his son and taught him about the game. But his biggest moment to be there for his son was when he talked to him as a scout, not as a dad.
It was very direct.
"He basically just would lay it out and say, 'This is what you have to do if you want to not only get drafted and make it to the Major Leagues, but then stay there,' " Avila said. "And he basically left it up to me. He's like, 'You don't have to do this. I want you to do what makes you happy. But if you want to, you've got to go about it the right way. Don't half-effort it.' "
Alex is married to Kristina Perez, whom he met in high school. On April 7, 2013 Avila and his wife welcomed their first child, a daughter, Avery Noelle.
In 2008, the same year they drafted Alex, Detroit also drafted Alex's brother, Alan, in the 47th round.
In 2011, Alex's cousin, Nick Avila, was drafted by the Tigers in the 37th round. Nick currently pitches in the Tigers minor league system. (Jan 2014) (Editor's note: Neither Alan nor Nick ever made it to the Majors.)
2015: Avila is committed to making the hockey-style catching mask work for him, whether it's comfortable or not. After concussions in each of the last three seasons, the Tigers' backstop is making the switch.
Alex took paternity leave early in March 2015. He headed out to be with his wife, Kristina, at their home in South Florida for the birth of their second child, a baby girl named Zoey who arrived at 12:18 p.m. on March 4th. (Beck - mlb.com - 3/4/15)
It was one day after Alex Avila's one-year, $2.5 million free-agent deal with the White Sox became public that the catcher received a call from former Tigers manager and former White Sox coach Jim Leyland to add a little information on his new team.
"I knew how much the players enjoyed playing for [White Sox manager] Robin [Ventura], and how professional the staff was," said Avila, who played seven years against the White Sox with Detroit. "[Leyland] told me how much I was going to love it and was telling me how loyal [White Sox owner] Mr. Reinsdorf is. It has been a great experience so far [as of May 16, 2016]." (Merkin - MLB.com - 5/16/16)
Alex got to return home, literally, when he pulled up to his house in nearby Birmingham, Mich., where he stayed for the last part of his Tigers tenure, and paid a visit during the team's off-day in town. He did not get to sleep in his own bed. His old teammate, Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, is renting the place from him for the season.
"I had to go by to pick up a baby crib for one of my kids," Avila said. He then stopped by his parents' home, where he saw his mom and dropped off the children. His father, Tigers general manager Al Avila, wasn't in.
Players change teams and see their old clubs all the time. For Avila, of course, the ties run deeper. He grew up around the Tigers' organization, first as a kid, then as a player. He spent the first seven seasons of his Major League career being able to see his family every day and became an integral part of the family atmosphere in the Tigers' clubhouse.
He prepared himself last year for breaking ties, knowing James McCann was the Tigers' catcher of the future. Once he signed within the division, inking a one-year deal with the White Sox, he knew he'd be renewing acquaintances at least a few times.
He walked down the tunnel toward the Tigers' clubhouse the next afternoon, then turned right toward the visiting clubhouse, which he had never stepped into.
"I definitely have a little nerves for sure, a little anxiousness," Avila said. "It'll be different coming out of that side, out of the visiting dugout. There's a lot of memories the past six, seven years, but once the pitcher gets set and I get in there, it's baseball, and you have to try to do what you can to beat them.
"A lot of it, people will be looking at coming in and playing the Tigers. We were looking forward to seeing each other. I haven't seen my dad yet, but he's seen my kids. He hadn't seen them since before Spring Training. He'd been dying to see them. I went over to my parents' house, saw my mom. It was a good off-day yesterday for us, and it'll be fun this weekend to see everybody."
At least one former teammate was already looking forward to it. Avila caught Justin Verlander 116 times over seven seasons. The trash talk about potentially facing him in the series finale began before he walked into the park.
"He already told me he was going to hit me if I end up playing on Sunday," Avila said. "We'll see. I said, 'Well, if you hit me, I'm going to steal off of you, my first stolen base this year.'" (Beck - MLB.com - 6/3/16)
April 14, 2017: Avila offers sage counsel, and a steadying presence behind plate. Daniel Norris was asked after the 7-6 win how he remained composed and delivered six scoreless innings against the Indians with dugout warnings issued and inside pitches carrying the risk of a strong reaction and an ejection. He credited his veteran catcher, Alex Avila.
"I call him George Clooney when he talks," Norris said. "He comes out there and calms me down. He hates that."
Indeed, Avila shook his head when that was brought up, though the deep voice bears some similarity. He was a little more receptive to the idea when told that Norris was referring to the Ocean's Eleven version of Clooney. Nevertheless, Norris isn't the first of the Tigers' young pitchers to note Avila's ability to call a game or help them through issues. Matthew Boyd mentioned it in Spring Training. Michael Fulmer has noted it.
It's a pretty good compliment for a backup catcher who made just his second start of the season against the Indians. But it's a reflection of Avila's role at this point in his career. Avila himself isn't that old. Despite his veteran aura and heavy beard, he recently turned just 30. But he has a history as a catcher.
"The thing about those years, Verlander was already established," Avila said, "but Ricky and Max were getting to that point, trying to establish themselves. And the same thing with [Doug] Fister. Those guys were trying to establish themselves like these guys are. They're kind of at different levels as far as their development, but these like guys Boyd and Fulmer and Daniel, they're learning about themselves as pitchers as well as trying to figure out the league, how to get guys out. They're going to have the same growing pains.
"The thing is, the talent's there. That's what you want to see, and you want to see the work be put in. Right now you can't ask for much more, and those guys have been doing that."
A catcher can guide a pitcher, Avila said, but in the end, a pitcher sometimes has to able to filter the advice he receives from different directions and serve as his own coach while figuring out who they are as a pitcher. The personalities are different, but the talent level bears similarities. Norris, for instance, has a completely different persona from Max Scherzer, but his first few seasons have resembled Scherzer—nasty stuff when he's on, but a struggle to command it consistently.
"Max struggled a little bit with that because he had an unorthodox delivery," Avila said, "kind of the same way Norris does. Norris is very smooth, but there's a lot of effort there. Sometimes his release point isn't as consistent as he'd like it to be, and I know Max struggled with that as well. Now Max knows his mechanics to a T. That's the point Daniel's going to try to get to, obviously." (J Beck - MLB.com - April 15, 2017)
When Alex's dad, Tigers GM Al Avila, called his son to say he'd been traded to the Cubs, it was not that surprising.
"It's been a month in the works that my name's been out there," Alex said, his first day in the Cubs' clubhouse after being acquired, along with reliever Justin Wilson, for two Minor League players. "We'd talked about it over the last month and a half, if that was the direction he was going to decide to go in, I would be a player who teams were looking at. That's understandable."
It's just rare to have a father trade a son. Al Avila is the first general manager since 1968 to make a Major League-level trade involving his son.
"We have a great relationship," Alex said. "But when it comes to doing our job, we both have to do our jobs. He had to. There was nothing more to it than that. I know a lot of people like to crack jokes, and obviously it's a unique situation. We got to spend a lot of time together, he got to watch me play a lot of Major League Baseball games over the last eight, nine years. It's been amazing. We've had something a lot of people don't get to experience.
Alex Avila said his mother was more disappointed about the deal. "I think she's more upset she won't see her grandchildren as much," Avila said. "My family understands. We're a baseball family, we've been in it forever. When you grow up in this industry, you understand what it takes to succeed and the sacrifices you have to make as a family. It's nothing new to us." (Muskat - mlb.com - 8/1/17)
Hunter Gillett showed off his D-backs gear with pride as he was interviewed by FOX Sports Arizona, sharing an incredible story about his special moments with Alex and Jarrod Dyson.
"I grabbed my 3 game bats and asked him to pick one out for me and I'll use it," Avila told FOX Sports Arizona after the game. "He picked it out because, in his words, it was the cleanest bat, but after it's obviously a little dirty. He picked out a winner for sure."
Prior to the D-backs' 8-4 win, Avila asked Hunter to choose a bat out of three he was holding to use that night. Well, Avila went 3-for-4 with a home run. Hunter also took a photo with Dyson's bat. He too hit a home run.
Hunter was in Philadelphia with his dad to consult with physicians on reconstructive surgeries for his hip dysplacia, according. Hunter and his father also reported it was "no longer a scary trip to prepare for major surgery," thanks to baseball.
And the best news? Avila signed the bat and gave it to Hunter. (Kleinschmidt - mlb.com - 4/24/18)
Al is an avid fisherman, specifically offshore. He typically goes looking for sailfish or wahoo fish.
Along with his father, Al, brother, Alan, uncle, Ralph, and cousin, Nick, caught a 585-pound swordfish in the 2016-17 offseason 20 miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. They caught the fish at a depth of 1,700 feet and took over 3 hours to catch. It produced over 400 pounds of meat.
The name of his fishing boat is "OFFSEASON," named by his wife, Kristina.
March 7, 2020: During Saturday’s festivities at Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal for the Twins-Tigers game -- the first MLB contest in the Dominican Republic in 20 years -- Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sanó, Iván Nova and other Dominican big leaguers were the most sought-after by fans and reporters. But one player on hand represented a legacy that has had one of the greatest impacts on the history of Dominican baseball and its influence in the Major Leagues: Twins catcher Alex Avila.
It was Alex’s grandfather, Rafael, or Ralph, who was a groundbreaking scout in the Dominican for the Dodgers in the 1970s and '80s and founded Los Angeles’ Dominican academy, Campo Las Palmas, in '87. When it comes to scouting and academies, the trail that Ralph blazed has since been followed by all 30 Major League teams. Ralph’s son and Alex’s dad, Al, is the current general manager of the Tigers.
“It seemed like a great time to come back and play against the Tigers with my dad over there,” Alex said on his eagerness to make the trip. “It was something that I think we were both looking forward to.”
With Ralph running Campo Las Palmas in the 1980s and '90s, his grandson, Alex, spent several summers as a youngster at the academy, cutting his teeth in baseball with freshly signed Dominican prospects.
“One of the things that my grandfather always preached is the fundamentals," said Alex, who is preparing for his 12th season as a Major League catcher. “That was something that was talked about not only when we were on the baseball field, but when were just having lunch or dinner, and it was always a topic of conversation. We always wanted to talk baseball. Between him and my dad, I learned a lot at an early age as far as the fundamentals, what it takes to be a baseball player, what it takes to be a Major Leaguer, be successful and do it the right way. It was a tremendous experience."
On March 6, 2020, Hall of Famers Pedro Martínez and Vladimir Guerrero threw out the ceremonial first pitches. Martínez, as fate would have it, was signed by Ralph in the late 1980s.
“There’s so much history with my grandfather and what he’s done here,” said Alex, whose dad Al was in attendance in Santo Domingo, while Ralph stayed at his home in South Florida. “Whether I’m here or in the States, Dominican players come up to me, or family members of Dominican players will come up to me, and I hear all the time how much of an influence my grandfather was, how many people he helped throughout his time here.
“He’s really created a legacy here. It’s something that I’m proud of and don’t take for granted, the fact that I was able to experience a lot of that growing up.”
For Alex, returning to the Dominican also meant coming back to where he played winter ball in 2009-10 with Leones del Escogido.
“All those memories, I’ll have forever,” he said. “Coming from having fun at the academy with my grandfather to actually playing here in the winter leagues and then now, it goes by quick. “With our family history, it’s nice to get back to kind of where a lot of it started for me, where learning happened for me as far as baseball.” (D Venn - MLB.com - March 7, 2020)
June 2008: The Tigers, per scout Jim Rough's recommendation, made Alex their 5th round pick in the draft, out of the University of Alabama. And he signed for a bonus of $169,000.
January 18, 2013: Avila and the Tigers avoided arbitration and agreed to a $2.95 million contract.
January 31, 2014: Alex and the Tigers again avoided salary arbitration, agreeing on a one-year, $4.3 million pact, with a $5.4 million option for 2015, which triggers if Avila is selected to the All-Star team or makes the top 10 in MVP or Silver Slugger voting in 2014.
Nov. 17, 2014: The Tigers exercised their $5.4 million option for Avila for 2015.
November 25, 2015: The White Sox signed free agent Avila to a one-year, $2.5 million bonus.
Nov 3, 2016: Alex chose free agency.
Dec 23, 2016: The Tigers signed free agent Avila to a one-year contract worth $2 million.
July 31, 2017: The Cubs acquired lefty reliever Justin Wlson and backup catcher Alex Avila. The Cubs sent top prospect Jeimer Candelario, Class A shortstop Isaac Paredes, and a player to be named later or cash to the Tigers.
Nov 2, 2017: Alex chose free agency.
Jan. 30, 2018: The Diamondbacks signed Alex to a two-year deal worth $8.2 million.
- Dec 6, 2019, The Twins agreed to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with catcher Alex Avila.