Ex-Tiger Avila nervous, anxious in return to Comerica

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Alex Avila spent seven seasons with the Tigers before signing with the White Sox in the offseason.

Detroit — It didn’t take long for Justin Verlander to welcome his old catcher back to town.

“Yeah, he already told me he was going to hit me if I end up playing on Sunday,” said Alex Avila, back in town and dressing in the visitors clubhouse for the first time in his life. “I told him, ‘If you hit me then I’m going to steal off you.’ It’ll be my first stolen base in a few years (since 2012).”

Avila, the Tigers catcher for seven seasons (2009-15), was trying to sort out his emotions hours before his first game back at Comerica Park since he signed with the Chicago White Sox in the offseason.

“I’m definitely going to be a little nervous,” said Avila, who got the start Friday and batted ninth. “There’s a little anxiousness, for sure. It’s going to be different coming out of the visitors dugout. I’ve had a lot of memories here over the past six or seven years.

“But once the pitcher gets set and I get in there, it’s baseball and I’ve got to try to do what I can to beat them.”

It takes a minute to get past seeing him in a White Sox uniform with an inverted number — 31 instead of 13 — but it’s the same amiable Avila. He’s a bit more clean-shaven than he may have been the last time you saw him, that a product of trying to keep the gray streaks off his face.

His statistics will probably seem familiar, too. In 23 games, he’s hitting .209 with a .325 on-base percentage. But he’s healthy after dealing with a hamstring injury earlier in the season and he’s taken charge of the White Sox pitching staff. And, just like he always was as a Tiger, he provided a calming and stabilizing presence during the White Sox stumbles through May.

“We were going through what the Tigers were going through earlier,” Avila said. “Everyone will go through it. It’s pretty much the same every year. You get the same questions every year. But you just have to ride the wave. You have to go with it and at the end of the season, whichever team survives that will be a playoff team.”

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The Tigers and White Sox will meet nine times in August and September, and Avila foresees those as potentially pivotal games.

“The Central Division, the way it looks now (four teams separated by five games), it’s going to be like that all year,” Avila said. “It should be fun to play in, fun to cover and fun to watch. Everybody will be within a few games. It will be intense for four teams. It’ll be an exciting summer.”

The White Sox have been in Detroit since Wednesday night, so Avila was able to get around, spend time with his mother and to get back to the house he still owns in Birmingham — which is where Ian Kinsler resides these days.

Avila isn’t bunking with the Kinslers on this trip; that would be too odd.

“No, I’m staying at the hotel,” Avila said. “I had to go by there to pick up a baby crib for one of my kids.”

Avila and his family are living in downtown Chicago.

“It was an adjustment for sure,” he said. “I was living out in Birmingham and now we’re in downtown Chicago. But it’s been a lot of fun. Chicago is an awesome city. We’re right in the middle of everything. We can walk everywhere with the kids. It’s been real good.”

The only thing he hadn’t done yet was see his father — Tigers general manager Al Avila.

“He’s seen my kids, though,” Alex Avila said. “He hadn’t seen them since before spring training, so he was dying wanting to see them. I’m excited to see him.”

Everything seemed relatively normal for Avila before the game Friday, until he walked into the stadium. He came in through the same walkway he did when he played here. He walked down the same ramp toward the clubhouse. He said hello to the clubhouse attendant John, just like he did for seven years.

Then it got weird.

“You mean when I had to turn right instead of left?” he said with a smile. “Yeah. I said hello to John and usually I just walk straight on in. That was a little different. This is the first time I’ve been in here (visitors clubhouse). Coming out of the visitor’s dugout wearing a different uniform, that’s going to be different.

“But, I’m excited — excited to just kind of get this over with.”

Twitter: @cmccosky