Support of Aviles brings importance of family to forefront

Club rallying behind infielder and young daughter battling leukemia

Support of Aviles brings importance of family to forefront

CLEVELAND -- One look around the Indians' clubhouse and it is easy to see how much the team takes pride in creating a family environment for its players. Each time someone walks through with a buzzed head, it is a reminder that there are more important things than baseball.

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For the past two years, Cleveland's players have been permitted to bring their daughters into the locker room following Sunday home games. This year, the team's awareness and appreciation of family reached a new level when one of Mike Aviles' young daughters, 4-year-old Adriana, began a battle with leukemia. The Sunday tradition has continued and the team -- players, coaches and staff -- have given a show of support with shaved heads.

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"It's easy to think and say that, 'Oh, baseball is not the most important thing,'" said Indians outfielder David Murphy, who has four kids, including two daughters. "Family is the most important thing. But then, when something like this happens, and you kind of hear stories and you see what Mike and his family are going through on a daily basis, that's when you truly realize that baseball is not the most important thing."

This Father's Day will undoubtedly take on a new feeling around the Tribe.

Aviles' teammates have been impressed by his ability to balance the increasing needs at home with being there for his teammates and the ballclub. In early May, when the Aviles family learned of Adriana's diagnosis, there were nights spent in the Cleveland Clinic. With his daughter back home and showing improvement, Aviles has continued to fill a super utility role for team.

"It goes to show you how strong a man that he is," Indians veteran Nick Swisher said. "You're juggling things at home. You're juggling things here now. Just with everything he's going through, for the rest of us to look at him, we say to ourselves, 'Wow, this guy right here is giving everything he has every single day, and I think that's starting to rub off on the rest of us."

Aviles, who has three daughters, said the support his family has received over the past several weeks has been overwhelming.

"[Even fans] are shaving their heads, and I think it's awesome," Aviles said. "I think it's cool the fan base has done that. I think it's cool our team, our staff, the front office, everybody's done it. It just shows the type of people you're dealing with. They're not bad people. They're good people. At the end of the day, everybody here has a heart and, obviously, everybody wants to win at the same time.

"Everybody has that heart for life. Sometimes, life happens, and that's what we're going through right now."

Swisher was one of the first handful of players to buzz his head in support of Adriana's fight and the team has taken to wearing orange wristbands to raise awareness for leukemia. Most recently, shortstop Francisco Lindor -- called up from Triple-A last weekend -- arrived to the team with long Jheri curls. He quickly had his hair trimmed, adding a cancer ribbon symbol shaved into the back of his head.

On Thursday, Cleveland's players, coaches, front-office members and other staffers all gathered together at Progressive Field with buzzed heads, wearing orange shirts with "Team Adriana" across the chest. It was the latest sign of support and a way for the team to raise awareness for cancer and, specifically, leukemia.

Earlier this month, Aviles even shaved the head of Indians owner and CEO Paul Dolan.

"At the beginning of the year, they talked about what teammates meant to each other," Dolan said at the time, "and how that was important to succeed. We've seen how the team has stepped up for Mike and his family and what they're going through. I'm really proud of that, as proud as winning games."

Last year, Dolan and the Indians' front office gave the go-ahead for the players with daughters to bring them into the clubhouse after Sunday home games. The request was spearheaded by Swisher and former Indians player Jason Giambi, who both have young daughters.

Swisher, who was in big league clubhouses with his dad (former big leaguer Steve Swisher) as a kid, wanted his little girl to have similar experiences as he did.

"She loves coming into the locker room every Sunday," Swisher said. "She loves running the bases. She loves coming in and she loves messing with all my bats. She loves messing my locker up. She loves doing all that. Anything I can do to make her smile or to make her happy, that's what I want to do. I also think that it means a lot coming from the front office and management, too, to allow us to do something like that."

Murphy echoed that sentiment.

"It's just something special," Murphy said. "Because we want to find ways to include them when we can. This is a great opportunity to do that."

On Father's Day this year, Aviles has a team full of other dads who are there for him and his family.

Family, after all, comes first.

"It definitely puts it in perspective," Aviles said. "Nothing against baseball -- everybody knows that baseball is my first love and I've been playing since I was four -- but when you have a family and you have kids, anybody knows you're kids come before everything else and that your family comes before that, to. In a situation like this, it shows you baseball is secondary."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.