For the first time since 2007, the Tigers have had a player voted into the All-Star starting lineup. Amazingly, it's someone who has never been to the All-Star Game before. Avila's honor as the AL's starting catcher made him the highlight of the Tigers' four All-Stars, Detroit's third time in five years with that many.
"It's just an incredible day," Avila said.
Avila joins returning All-Stars Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Valverde on the way to Chase Field in Phoenix. If they can get Victor Martinez past the competition this week in the All-Star Game Final Vote, they'll have a fifth member, matching their total from 2007 -- the year after they went to the World Series.
Either way, only the Yankees have more All-Stars on the AL roster. And in Avila's case, he beat out a Yankee to get there, with help from Tigers fans and teammates.
"I'm so excited for him," said Verlander, who mounted a Twitter campaign over the last couple weeks to get out the vote. "I couldn't be more happy and proud of him."
The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be played on July 12 in Phoenix. It will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau des Sports, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Verlander saw the progress Avila made from last year to now to become an All-Star. He began the season as someone seemingly with good reason to look over his shoulder regarding his starting job in Detroit, where Martinez had just signed a four-year contract to catch part-time and spend his other starts at designated hitter. Avila was a first-time starter at just 24 years old, having converted to catcher just a few years earlier in college.
What followed was Avila's emergence as a standout catcher and hitter in his own right. After a rough opening week, he settled in both at the plate and behind it. He drove in 18 runs by the end of April, with a .311 average, then slugged five home runs in May before bringing his average up again in June.
Avila led all AL catchers in almost every major offensive category, short of home runs. Still, Russell Martin's hot opening month as a New York Yankee earned him a slew of early votes once fan balloting began in April and May.
The Tigers soon picked up Avila's cause. A logo designed by a fan for Avila's candidacy circulated online, adopted by more and more fans as word spread. Then came Verlander, whose work with Avila as his catcher has resulted in a no-hitter and several close calls already this year. Verlander and fellow Tigers starter Brad Penny took to Twitter and just about any other medium they could find to try to encourage fans to vote Avila.
"I'm excited for myself," Verlander said, "but to be able to help Alex, I just did what I could. His numbers are what got him in the All-Star Game and got him the start. I was just trying to get some people to take notice."
Eventually, they did. Avila slowly began catching up to Martin, but still trailed by more than 400,000 votes in the last balloting update earlier this week. But Avila garnered the vast majority of the votes at catcher this week before online balloting closed Thursday night.
In the end, Avila beat Martin by just under half a million votes, with 4,144,384 votes in his favor.
"Amazing," Verlander said. "I've said it time in and time out in my tenure here, the fans support us, and it's one of the best baseball cities in the U.S. And I think they really showed it."
He wasn't the only one impressed.
"It was a pretty big campaign," Avila said. "The organization got pretty involved in it, too. That's a lot of votes to make up in a short period of time, and I didn't think it was going to happen, quite honestly. But it feels amazing."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland broke the news to Avila on Sunday morning, dragging him into his office along with Valverde. It was one of his better tasks of the day.
"The nicest surprise of all, and I don't mean to downplay the other guys, is that Alex was voted in to be the starting catcher," Leyland said. "I think that's probably the nicest surprise. That's a pretty good tribute to him and the job that he's done. Good stuff, and certainly well-deserved."
The honor was announced Sunday on the Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell, which was shown on Comerica Park's video board as fans filed in for Sunday afternoon's game against the Giants. When Avila took the field for the first inning, he received a huge ovation from the crowd of 31,904.
"I was in the game," he said. "I was getting ready, but it was very nice, a nice ovation."
If he wasn't always recognizable apart from his dad, he will be now.
"It was funny," Avila said. "We were talking about that the other day, and he said, 'Yeah, I was in the grocery store and they asked me, 'Aren't you Alex Avila's dad?'"
Avila likely won't get a chance to catch Verlander in the All-Star Game. Though he was an obvious choice for players to vote onto the AL pitching staff, Verlander won't be eligible to pitch in the Midsummer Classic if he starts for the Tigers at Kansas City next Sunday to close out the season's first half, as he's scheduled to do.
With an 11-3 record, 2.32 ERA and just 88 hits over 135 2/3 innings, he would've been a strong candidate to start in the game. Still, he'll be recognized with his third straight All-Star selection and his fourth overall.
Cabrera makes the All-Star team for the sixth time, the second time as a Tiger. His .328 average through Sunday ranked third in the AL to go with 17 homers and 56 RBIs.
"It's something special," Cabrera said. "When you have the chance to make it, you have to enjoy it."
Valverde, 20-for-20 in save chances after Sunday's win, is a three-time All-Star.
Verlander, Valverde and Cabrera were all All-Stars last season. It's the first time three Tigers earned back-to-back All-Star selections since 1985 and '86, when Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Willie Hernandez made the teams.
Fans, having already decided the starters, this week will have the opportunity to select the final player on each All-Star team. Balloting began immediately following Sunday's Major League All-Star Selection Show presented by Taco Bell and continues until 4 p.m. ET on Thursday. The winners will be announced on MLB.com shortly thereafter.
Mobile voting in the U.S. is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers. To receive the 2011 All-Star Game Final Vote Sponsored by Sprint mobile ballot, text the word "VOTE" to 1122. To vote for a specific player, simply text message your choice to 1122. EXAMPLE: Text "A3" to vote for AL Player 3 or "N3" to vote for NL Player 3. Message and data rates may apply. Mobile voting in Canada is open to all carriers; fans should text their choices to 88555. Standard rates may apply.
On July 12, fans once again will have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevy via the 2011 All-Star Game MVP Vote Sponsored by Sprint on MLB.com during the All-Star Game.