DETROIT — The guest star was more than willing to hand the baton back to the starter.
When the two teammates crossed paths in the Comerica Park training room Tuesday, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila chatted about the former’s two cameo appearances behind the plate last weekend, while the latter was still on the disabled list.
“I told him, ‘Now you know you can still do it.’ He was excited about that. We were talking about some of the licks he took those two games, too,” said Avila, who came off the seven-day concussion disabled list Tuesday, after a 15-day stay.
“He told me, ‘You take care of it the rest of the way. Now that I know that I can do it, I don’t want to do it anymore.’ ”
It’s understandable why someone would not want to take the beating that Avila does. Or any full-time catcher, really.
[For more on what the future could hold for Alex Avila, CLICK HERE.
Avila’s been out since Aug. 11, but he originally suffered the concussion three days earlier, in Cleveland. After getting checked out in Detroit, Avila joined his teammates in New York. He played on Aug. 10, then was placed on the DL after experiencing delayed symptoms the next day.
“No, that night, when I got the CT scan (in Cleveland), and it came back normal, that I didn’t have any ... brain damage, I guess. I felt fine. Still had a slight headache, but I felt fine. ... Then, a day later, is when the symptoms started to show up,” said the 26-year-old Avila, who’s now had concussion issues twice in an 11-month span.
“Honestly, I felt it during the game that I played, a little bit. But, being stubborn, I wanted to stay in the game. Didn’t say anything to Kevin (Rand, the head trainer) or anybody. Then the next morning, I felt it a little bit. When I started getting ready for the game, and hitting, then it started to get worse after.
“Then I figured this was something more, something I can’t push through. ...
“That Sunday in New York, hitting in the cage, after a couple rounds, I got to the point where I was like, it’s not another injury that I can play through. I mean, I’ve played through injuries that are a lot more painful, but nothing that could impair your ability to play as much as that.”
Sixteen days — and several rehabilitation starts in Toledo later — Avila feels back to normal. Coming into Tuesday’s start with the Tigers, he had not yet taken a shot off the mask.
“No. First pitch of the game (in Toledo), though, I got one off the arm,” Avila said, showing off the bruise.
It’s not a new problem. Avila always got hit a lot in the minors, although the late movement on the pitches of the staff he now catches probably doesn’t help.
“I mean, I’ve said a million times, I’m sure it has something to do with it. If there was something that I could do that would help, obviously, I would’ve done it,” he said. “There’s not much I could change there.”
He’s gotten a new mask, with a heavier cage, like the one he used to wear when he was a minor leaguer. “It’s bigger, heavier bars. If you get hit in the face, it’ll bend a little you just have to rebend them, or get a new mask,” he said. “There’s a little more give there.”
He’s getting a newly-designed helmet to wear under the mask, too. “It’s definitely a lot bigger and a lot heavier than the helmets I’ve been using. Basically what it is is the batting helmet without the ear flaps,” he said. “They’re making me one, and I’ll probably be wearing that one, as soon as they get it in.”
He won’t reconsider his dislike of wearing a hockey-style helmet, though.
And, even though he’s looked into a mouth guard, he’s not sure he can wear one while catching. “It’s something that I’ve looked into a little bit, but ... the thing is, I can’t even chew gum out there,” he said. “I don’t know about being able to catch or hit with a mouth guard in.”
All the equipment in the world isn’t going to mitigate the fact that Avila will likely get hit again. The hope is that it will merely mitigate the after-effects.
“Well, there’s always going to be risks, no matter what kind of equipment. The equipment is always evolving, is always getting better. I think from when I first started catching in college to now, the equipment is 10 times better. It just keeps getting better. Companies keep finding ways to protect you, but keep it to where you’re still mobile, and you’re still able to be athletic back there,” he said.
“At the same time, I think there’s always going to be risks. You look at the NFL — those helmets are as safe as they’re going to come, but you always see guys still getting concussions. It just comes with the territory, I think.
“Equipment will always evolve, to try to be as safe as possible, but there’s always going to be risk.”
With eight catchers having already used the seven-day concussion DL this season, it’s gotta be a sport-wide concern.
“Guys are definitely more aware. When you see guys going on DL, that’s the bottom line. When I first came into the league, even just five years ago, it was something that was talked about, but not the way it is now,” Avila said. “I think catchers are even more aware, because we make a living behind the plate, and we get hit a lot. So we want to make sure we can not only do that to the best of our ability, but also have a life afterward.”
For Avila, that ‘life after baseball’ includes a wife and a daughter born this spring, huge considerations to take into account.
“It’s been on my mind a lot. When I see pictures of my daughter, when I’m on the road, or something like that, or like when I was with Toledo, or when I had to come out of the first game — I’m not going to lie. It has been on my mind,” Avila said.
“But at the same time, I know that there’s people that care about me, as far as making sure that I am healthy, and that’s one of the reasons why I think we took our time with it, to make sure I was healthy before I came back.
“That’s definitely something I thought about.
That support wasn’t just limited to his family, though.
“Also, too, I had so much support from the fans, it was absolutely incredible. Incredible,” Avila said.
Bryan Holaday was optioned to Toledo to make room for Avila on the active roster, but the club has said he’d be back up in September, when the Triple-A season ends, and will rejoin the team in Boston on Sept. 3.