Friday, June 3, 2016

Sins of the Father: The Avila Story

Danville, Kentucky -- They say a man spends his entire life fighting for the approval of his father. As boys, we spend our childhood in the symbolic shadow of an elusive paternal figure, eager to emulate his strengths and learn from his failings. My own father was a great man. He introduced me to baseball, hunting, and sweet Kentucky bourbon. I remember spending sticky, sunburnt days with him at the old Crosley Field, marveling at the prowess of greats like ace Jimmy Maloney and the slick-fielding Woody Woodward, the Tyler Saladino of his time. The ballpark experience was different then. In the era before the price-inflating effects of NAFTA, hot dogs cost less than a buck a pop, a bargain for working families like my own. My dad was my hero. He taught me the value of teamwork, playing the game the right way, always hustling down the line, and pitching to contact and the score. Lessons that would see me through many hardships.

Yet, Ezekiel 18:19 tells us that the son bears the iniquities of the father, and indeed, I still carry the burden of my father's shortcomings. 1972 was a time for choosing; between the steely resolve of Nixon and the untested grassroots hucksterism of George McGovern. McGovern's naivete and glossy-eyed idealism would've been disastrous to a country in the midst of a Cold War against the cruel and failed ideology of communism. At a time when America was waging war against the enemies of freedom around the world, George McGovern proposed slashing the defense budget and pronounced: "Come home, America." McGovern's sunny disposition was simply anachronistic at a time when democracy was under siege and dominoes were primed to fall. He hoodwinked otherwise noble men like my father by promising a grossly expanded welfare state and government hand-outs. My father and I had much in common. We loved utility infielders, sacrifice bunting, frankfurters, and the smell of gun-powder after firing a hunting rifle in the Kentucky backwoods. But our differences had become irreconcilable. Drawn to the siren song of socialism like a moth to a flame, my father voted for McGovern at a time when our country needed Dick Nixon. We have spoken to each other only grudgingly since.

Alex Avila is another man suffering for the sins of his father. Alex was a cornerstone player on the 2011-2014 Detroit Tigers teams that won the AL Central Division four times in a row and were perennial World Series contenders. He deserves credit for the Cy Young studded pitching staffs of these teams. He provided veteran leadership behind the dish and cerebral game-calling prowess for a pitching staff filled with excellent hurlers like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly. On a team of free-swingers, Alex showed sturdy plate discipline and patience. In his absence, the 2016 Tigers have struggled to generate consistent production from the catcher position.

Why then, did the Tigers let Mr. Avila walk, only to watch him sign a reasonable contract with the division rival Chicago White Sox? Like myself back in 1972, Alex was betrayed by his father: Al Avila, general manager of the Tigers. Fearing accusations of nepotism, Avila Sr. parted ways with his own son in a cruel and callous fashion. A family reunion of sorts will take place this weekend, as the White Sox visit the Tigers for a three game series. It will be hard for Alex Avila, upon his return to Comerica Park, not to reminisce on the feelings of pain and rejection inflicted by his own father last offseason.

Alex has been a blessing to the 2016 White Sox; in a clubhouse shaken by the sudden absence of Drake LaRoche, Avila has been an achor of stability and reliability. His pre-existing friendship with former-Tigers Austin Jackson and Avisail Garcia has been a boon to the team's chemistry.

He has helped studs like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana achieve their God-given potential with his superb game-calling skills. Yet, Alex can't help but feel dissatisfied, as he still bleeds, hurts, and fights for the approval of his father. For the White Sox to truly scale the peaks of baseball glory, Alex must forgive the sins of his father. A man cannot thrive in the present while dwelling on the follies of the past. For Alex Avila, the dream of reconciliation with his father must be superseded by the dream of a World Series championship.