Sights, sounds from the Tigers caravan

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — A month later, Alex Avila still was spinning fish tales. He beamed when showing off a cell-phone video of himself and five others — including his dad — reeling in a whopping, 585-pound swordfish miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in late December.

It took about three hours to reel the fish to the boat, then another hour to get the darn thing in the boat.

By then, the fish was bleeding so bad, Avila, the Tigers backup catcher, and his crew were worried the longer it took, the more likely a shark was to approach and take a bite out of the trophy fish — or worse.

"A few days later, I was reading the fishing report," Avila, back with the Tigers after a one-year hiatus with the Chicago White Sox, said Thursday before the kickoff of the team's annual winter caravan. "And apparently there was a 2,300-pound, female, Great White spotted right in that area.
"I'm glad we didn't run into that!"

No kidding.

That could've made for an interesting disabled-list explanation.

Back in the fold

Speaking of Avila ...

Manager Brad Ausmus sure sounded happy to have the veteran catcher back.

"I had to," Ausmus said. "His dad's the GM."

Say what you want about Ausmus as a manager, but his one-liner game certainly remains on point.

Ausmus then turned serious, explaining the move — which, arguably, was the most-notable transaction of the offseason for a Tigers team that threatened to rebuild, but hasn't pulled the trigger on many moves of serious significance.

Avila will be James McCann's backup.

Tigers relieved, motivated by having band back together

"I know there's going to be jokes about the GM bringing in his son," Ausmus said. "But the truth is, he kind of fits the bill, left-handed bat, good mentor, good with pitchers, not going to have to play catch-up on a lot of pitchers.

"The jokes will run wild on Twitter, I'm sure they did when we signed him.

"There wasn't a ton of left-handed-hitting catching options out there."

Avila received a one-year, $2-million contract.

Piano man

Daniel Norris is a unique cat, with his well-written-about van — it's actually having engine trouble, so he has acquired a replacement that should debut in Lakeland this month — and his world-wide travels.

No surprise, then, that it was Norris who stepped up to the piano to show off his "chops" during the Tigers' stop at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

With Miguel Cabrera rushing to the front row to film Norris, the lefty pitcher, sporting a bushy beard and a man bun these days, hammered out two verses of ... ummm ... "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

"Is there a future there?" Tigers emcee Mickey York jokingly asked DSO music director Leonard Slatkin.

Earlier, the Tigers' contingent was treated to a special presentation by DSO musicians, with a couple guest conductors.

"Mr. (Al) Avila and Mr. Cabrera turned out to be really good conductors," Slatkin said. "So you let me know when there's a first-base opening. I'm ready."

Boom brothers

A Tigers fan at the DSO asked Cabrera what his first reaction after he hit a ball out of Comerica Park last summer.

"Niiiiiice," Cabrera deadpanned.

"Ooooh, high-fives," he added, to plenty of laughter.

Then, as Cabrera is always too happy to do, he turned the attention off himself, saying Justin Upton actually was the better person to ask. So, he handed the microphone to Upton to explain the feeling off hitting a ball like that.

"He can explain it better than me," Cabrera said. "He hits the ball a lot harder than me."

Upton, of course, chuckled.

"I've hit some 50 feet shorter," Upton said.

Squeeze play

Reigning American League rookie of the year Michael Fulmer was asked about the best part about pitching in Detroit.

He first gave the typical answers — the fans, teammates, etc. — and then noted the ballpark, Comerica Park, which is considered a pitcher-friendly stadium.

"Hopefully," said Fulmer, "it stays big."

Avila quickly chimed in ...

"There's a rumor we're bringing the fences in ...," Avila said.

That'd sure make a few hitters on the dais happy, Cabrera and Upton to name two, but alas, "Only kidding," Avila added, with a sly grin.

Catching on?

Andrew Romine played every position but catcher last season.

Might that change this season? He hopes not.

"It seems very hard," Romine said. "I think I caught a couple innings in Little League, and they definitely weren't throwing 100 mph.

"Hopefully it doesn't come to that."

Norris was asked his impression of Romine's pitching skills, to which he was quite complimentary.

Romine's ERA in his 0.2 innings in 2016 was 0.00. It wasn't as pretty during a game against the Minnesota Twins in 2014, when he gave up back-to-back home runs — before following that with a strikeout.

"Thank you, Kurt Suzuki," Romine said, laughing.

Pudge plaudits

Several Tigers were celebrating Wednesday's Hall-of-Fame election of Pudge Rodriguez, who played from 2004-08 with Detroit.

He's widely credited with starting the baseball renaissance in the city.

"He took a chance on us," said Al Avila, who was assistant GM to Dave Dombrowski at the time of the signing, "and we took a chance on him.

"And the rest is history."

Only one player remains from the World Series run in 2006, sparked in large part by Rodriguez. That's Justin Verlander, who won AL rookie of the year that year.

He credited Rodriguez as a big part of that.

"He was my rookie catcher," Verlander said. "Just being able to have somebody like that behind the plate, be able to talk to him about things that he saw or felt or whatever, he was very open with me as a rookie. Being able to pick his brain was pretty special."

The last Hall-of-Famer to play a single game for the Tigers: Al Kaline, in 1974.

Twitter @tonypaul1984