December 7, 2022

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Alex Avila tests waters as broadcaster 

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This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The voice with Dan Dickerson on the radio for this week’s Tigers series at the Rays should be familiar, even if he’s new to the broadcast. Alex Avila has embarked on a second career as a broadcaster this season after 13 years of catching in the Majors, including eight with the Tigers. 

This series will be his first work on games after a regular schedule of studio work with MLB Network. He talked Sunday about the transition and catching up with the Tigers.

How did this opportunity come about, not just broadcasting but doing Tigers games?
It wasn’t something that I was seeking out. I was approached by Ron Colangelo and Stan Fracker from the Tigers about possibly doing a few games with Dan, and I thought it would be a lot of fun. Dan was kind of excited about the opportunity as well, as am I. I thought that Dan is one of the best if not the best in the booth. I still remember when my dad joined the Tigers and we moved there, and we listened to Ernie [Harwell] on the radio. So I would listen to games on the radio, and when the game was on TV as well, I would listen on the radio. Once Dan took over, I always thought he was amazing at it and always well-prepared.

Were you looking for a new challenge when you retired?
When I decided to retire, there wasn’t something that I absolutely wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something in baseball. I think if you had asked me when I first came up, I’d say I wanted to stay on the field and try my hand at coaching and take those stepping stones to being a manager. But as I got older and my family grew, I was able to make the decision that once I stepped back, I wanted to spend more time with family, but I also wanted to stay involved. MLB Network, that opportunity came up right away, and it was hard not to look at that and think this can help me stay involved and talk about the game and be at home with my family but also have a new experience, a new challenge. And I know a lot of guys that have made that transition. Everyone has seemed to have a really good time, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

You’ve always been a good interview, but not necessarily outspoken. Has that been an adjustment?
Over the course of my career, I felt more comfortable being more vocal publicly. But at the same time, a lot of the advice I’ve gotten is to be yourself. There’s never been a lot of advice to do more. If you know what you’re talking about, then it will come across as genuine. That’s the advice that I’ve gotten so far. Speaking on camera has never been difficult for me, but it’s obviously a little different being on the other side of the microphone and sometimes asking the questions.

What’s the biggest adjustment from studio work to broadcasting games?
All the stuff that I’ve been doing at MLB Network, we’ve just been kind of reacting to games as we’re watching them. The other thing, too, is on TV, people can actually see what’s going on themselves. So at the same time, I’m trying to give perspective while staying out of the way. Obviously on radio, there’s a little more detail involved trying to paint a picture to somebody who doesn’t have a visual.

We’ve always heard about how catchers make great managers and coaches because they’re involved in every aspect of the game, but are there ways in which that helps you behind the microphone?
I think there’s a lot of attributes that apply to not only being on the field as a manager or a coach, but also to help fans understand what’s going on and providing perspective. As a catcher, you not only have to hit, but help the pitchers. You’re dealing with all the personalities on the team and you’re having to deal with all the aspects of the game itself. I have been hearing lately since getting into the media world that everyone loves catchers because of that aspect as well.

How much have you been following the Tigers, and what will it be like catching up in person?
I’ve been watching most of their games all year. Our family has put so much time, blood, sweat and tears in the Tigers and that organization. The Tigers are always going to be my team. I’ve been watching the games for the most part and still keep in contact with some guys and obviously talk to my dad quite a bit. But it will be fun to get there and see some guys and get in the clubhouse.

You were part of an influx of young players when you came up here. When you look at this team, do you see any similarities to anything you went through?
Well, it’s a lot of the same things that most all young players go through at certain points when they first get an opportunity. When I first came up in 2009, the only rookies were me and [Rick] Porcello. But obviously in 2010 after the [Curtis] Granderson trade, Austin Jackson was there and [Max] Scherzer was there, so there were a few of us looking to find our footing.

A lot of young guys, they’re going through the same thing, like 98 percent of young players will go through. It’s a matter of keeping perspective and understanding there’s a process to it. Once you get to a point where you’re in the big leagues, you’re never that far off. It might feel like you’re never going to get a hit or, as a pitcher, get an out again, but you’re never that far off. It might be hard as a young player to have that perspective, but it’s something I wish I had when I was at that point in my career.

What is it like watching Miguel Cabrera rack up these milestones, having been there as a lot of hits and home runs piled up?
It’s pretty amazing. When I’ve watched the games and I see him get a hit or a home run and he moves up a list, it’s like nostalgia, the times we played together, the teams we played on and reminiscing. It’s kind of reliving those times.

We were all kind of expecting that one day you were going to see history unfold in front of you, but once it happens, there’s no ways to prepare for that. What boggles the mind is when you think about how long it’s been since someone has been able to do something like this. When will it happen the next time? When you talk about him and stuff he’s put up, you’re talking about guys who played decades and decades ago. He is the person in our lifetime that is representing that kind of greatness.

You played with Miguel Cabrera at the start of your career, and Juan Soto at the end. Do you think about the greatness you saw at the bookends?
He’s kind of the next one people talk about in that aspect. When people have asked me about Juan, I’ve said that he’s every bit as good and as talented as Miguel, and maybe in some aspects better. For him, it’s a matter of staying healthy. He has all the talent to make history. It’ll be fun to watch his career unfold.

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