Now I know why they call April 1, April Fool’s Day.
For that was the date, after just one game had been played in the 2011 season, that sports talk radio was lit up with phone calls from loudmouths on their cell phones calling for the ouster of catcher Alex Avila from not only the Tigers' starting lineup, but from the roster, Detroit, and to be on the safe side, probably even the state of Michigan.
The Tigers had lost on Opening Day to the Yankees in New York, and I won’t argue that it wasn’t one of Avila’s crowning moments. He was shaky behind the plate and he looked overmatched with the bat; albeit he was going against southpaw CC Sabathia.
After one game, the callers were frothing at the mouth.
“Avila is not a big league catcher!!”
“What is he doing on the team??!!”
“He’s only on the team because his dad is the assistant GM!!”
“What do the Tigers see in him?!!”
This was what I heard on April Fool’s Day, so appropriately named in light of the overreaction that was spewing forth on the airwaves of 97.1 The Ticket.
Yesterday, on those same airwaves, here’s what I heard about Avila:
“Be sure to vote often, because at midnight tonight, All-Star voting will be cut off! So vote for Alex Avila, so he can surpass the Yankees’ Russell Martin and be the starting catcher for the American League!!”
The fools have been silenced and outed.
I had faith in Alex Avila in spring training. I felt that he, with more experience at the big league level, could swing that silky lefty swing and be a capable backstop who could also hit.
I acknowledged his challenges defensively, but defense can be improved, as can other parts of a player’s game.
Not only is Avila a .300 hitter with some pop, he’s a master at driving in runs from third base with less than two outs—and he’s not embarrassing himself with the glove.
After the 2011 season was just nine innings old, the fools with cell phones wanted him ran out of town. They were ready, after one game, to defrock Avila, make Victor Martinez the full-time catcher and once again make the DH a committee in Detroit.
Never mind that Martinez signed with the Tigers partially because he was just fine with not catching all that much; in fact, I got the feeling that he rather enjoyed the notion of not catching more than, say, twice a week.
Ah, but a caveat.
One can be foolish just as easily at the halfway point of the season as one can be after the first game of the season.
In other words, you might say let’s wait and see if Avila can keep up this kind of production for an entire season.
But his swing, discipline at the plate and the amount of quality at-bats he gives the Tigers (Avila has a way of forcing the opposing hurler to throw 6-8 pitches per Avila AB), doesn’t have “first-half phenom” written all over him.
Not like Brennan Boesch, a free swinger who slapped himself silly in the first half last season before pitchers figured him out (to his credit, Boesch has volleyed the ball back into the pitchers’ court this season, counter-adjusting nicely).
I remember chuckling ruefully and gently shaking my head as I heard the hysteria about Avila after Opening Day in New York.
I’m chuckling even louder now.