Showcase : : Story
Friday, July 17, 2009

Tiger fan in N.Y. thrilled to make Aflac game

Jim Ecker        
Robbie Aviles is a big baseball fan who lives in Suffern, N.Y., just a short drive across the Hudson River from New York City, so you'd figure he'd be a huge fan of the Yankees or Mets. You'd be wrong, however.

"I cheer for both teams, because I'm a New Yorker," he said, "but honestly, my dad and I and my brother are Detroit Tigers fans."

They're not the only Tiger fans in New York, but there aren't many.

"It's a long story," Aviles said, laughing.

His grandfather was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. We're talking HUGE fan, and he was sorely disappointed when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. He was mad at the Dodgers for leaving and needed another team to root for, but it would have been unheard of for a Dodger fan (even a former Dodger fan) to switch his allegiance to the hated New York Yankees or New York Giants (the Giants left for California, too).

"He had to pick another team, and he picked Detroit," Aviles explained. "So ever since then my family has been brainwashed into being Detroit Tiger fans."

Aviles is more than just a baseball fan. He's also a very talented baseball player, a 6-foot-4 righthander who pitches in the low 90s and absolutely loves the game. He's delighted about being picked for the Aflac All-American High School Classic and can't wait to get to San Diego for the game at PETCO Park on Aug. 16.

"I'm excited," he said, enthusiasm evident in his voice. "Whenever I get opportunities this big to play baseball, I'm so psyched to play, I'm so ready. I'm looking forward to it."

His friends tease him about being a Tigers fan in New York, but Aviles reaped the benefits on a trip to Yankee Stadium in 2006. It's a pretty good story.

"Me and my dad, we went to the postseason game when the Tigers beat the Yankees," he related. "I was probably the only one in the stadium wearing a Tiger jersey. I was wearing a Miguel Cabrera jersey, and I was probably the only fan in there cheering for Cabrera."

Robbie's father, Brian Aviles, is a pitching instructor in Rockland County, where they live, and clients give him great seats at Yankee Stadium whenever the Tigers come to town. That's why they were sitting about 10 rows behind the Yankee dugout for that playoff game. As the game wore on and the Tigers were winning, Robbie moved up.

"I kept on moving closer and closer as the fans kept on leaving," he said.

He kept cheering for Detroit and cheering for Cabrera, and then something happened that absolutely made his day.

"In the ninth inning, he points to me and throws me a ball," Robbie said. "Yeah, Miquel Cabrera threw me a ball. I had his jersey on and was yelling at him the entire game. Then he comes around, he points at me and he just throws me the ball. It was awesome."

Some day, that could be Aviles on a major league field, tossing a ball to a young fan. He might have to avoid pick-up basketball games, however. That's how he suffered a slight fracture in his throwing hand earlier this summer that sidelined him for about a month. "My dad wasn't too happy," he said.

Aviles is healthy again now, playing long-toss and getting back in shape. He's learned a lot from his father, who reached Double-A ball as a pitcher with the Atlanta Braves during his career. Leo Mazzone, who had a long, highly successful tenure as the pitching coach for the Braves, worked with Aviles' father in the Atlanta organization.

Mazzone taught Brian Aviles, and Brian Aviles taught Robbie Aviles. "All my philosophy, all my things, have always been followed after Leo Mazzone," he said.

He hopes to show what he can at the Aflac game in San Diego.

"Me and my friends used to watch it every year (on TV)," he said. "It's like the biggest honor I've ever gotten, being asked to play in it. The talent was amazing, so just being asked was awesome. I can't wait."
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