2/17/2013 7:25 P.M. ET
Aviles driven by past experiences
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Mike Aviles' story is one about overcoming odds and proving people wrong. It is a tale of fighting his way up through the Minor Leagues after an insulting signing bonus. It is about realizing his dream of becoming a highly-praised big leaguer.
His story also includes a treacherous drive through a frightening snow storm.
And a car engine suddenly gone silent.
"I'll never forget it," said Aviles, who is thankful he can now laugh at the memory.
Ashland, Ohio. That is where one part takes place.
Aviles, who is now a super utility player for the Indians, was a 26-year-old Minor Leaguer heading to his first big league Spring Training with Kansas City in 2008. He loaded up his car -- a 2001 Nissan Maxima with more than 100,000 miles under its fan belt -- with his belongings, his wife, Jessy, and their miniature pinscher, and left Middletown, N.Y., for Arizona.
The car was all Aviles could afford and he prayed to the baseball Gods that it was up for the roughly 2,500-mile journey to Surprise, Ariz. Without any hiccups, Aviles would pull into the Grand Canyon State after about 36 hours of driving. His wife was skeptical about getting into the less-than-trustworthy hunk of metal and rubber.
"It was just a beater. It got me from A to B. That was it," Aviles said, laughing. "It had a monthly payment of around $150. I was like, 'I can do that, perfect.' My wife hated it. I hated it. But it was what I could afford at the time."
Seven hours into the drive, Aviles was maneuvering the Maxima through heavy snowfall in Ohio.
That is when his dashboard warning lights flashed on.
The car's engine suddenly halted. The alternator had ceased.
"The car just shuts off," Aviles said. "I'm like, 'How does that happen? We're on the highway, and it just shuts off. It was like, 'Oh, man. Oh, this is not good."
They pulled off to the side of I-71 outside Ashland and coasted to a stop. Aviles called for emergency roadside service and, when the tow truck arrived at the scene, the infielder began thinking back to the horror movie he and his wife had watched the previous night.
On the eve of their cross-country trek, they watched "Vacancy," which tells of a married couple suddenly stranded and forced to stay in an isolated motel. The typical horror-movie script unfolds -- complete with a crazed killer and frantic escape efforts.
When the driver emerged from his tow truck on the highway, Aviles felt like he was suddenly the protagonist in a similar plot.
"I'm not lying to you," Aviles said. "The tow truck guy literally looked like he was going to kill both of us. I was like, 'Oh my God.' I remember looking at my wife and I told her, 'Babe, you grab the dog and if anything happens you just take off running. I don't care where you go. Don't worry about me.'"
Of course, there was nothing to fear in the end.
The driver turned out to be really nice, as did the mechanic they met and the people at the motel that hosted the Aviles' in Ashland. Surprisingly enough, they were able to get a new alternator that night, and they were on the road again to Arizona the next morning.
Aviles was able to resume his career path, which was paved by a drive to prove Kansas City wrong.
The Royals selected Aviles in the seventh round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Concordia College, which is located north of Manhattan in New York. Kansas City called Aviles after the Draft and offered him a signing bonus of $1,000. No more, no less.
The players selected on either side of Aviles each took home more than $130,000.
"I hung up the phone," Aviles said. "I did. I hung up the phone the first time."
When the Royals called again, Aviles took a different mentality.
"I wanted to prove and show that I'm worth more than $1,000," Aviles said. "I was going to play in the big leagues and they were going to give me back that $1,000 some way, somehow. I wanted to make them pay for it in the long run."
In 2003, Aviles hit .363 in 52 games and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Rookie-level Arizona League. He was named his team's player of the year at Class A Wilmington a year later. He was a Texas League All-Star in 2005 and Kansas City's Minor League player of the year in 2007.
Aviles cracked the big leagues in '08 and hit .325 with 10 homers, 27 doubles and 51 RBIs in 102 games for the Royals.
Kansas City traded Aviles to the Red Sox midway through the 2011 campaign, giving the infielder his first opportunity to play for manager Terry Francona. Two years later, Francona is managing Cleveland, and he played a key role in convincing general manager Chris Antonetti to acquire Aviles from Boston in a three-player trade in November.
"I was so excited when we got him," Francona said.
In 136 games with Boston last year, Aviles served as Boston's starting shortstop and hit .250 with 13 homers, 14 stolen bases, 28 doubles, 57 runs scored and 60 RBIs. With the Indians, he will work as the primary backup at second base, shortstop and third base. In a pinch, Aviles could step into the designated hitter role, or play a corner outfield spot.
"Those guys are hard to find," Francona said. "But on good teams, you always have those guys."
Aviles reached Arizona without any issues this year.
That Maxima is ancient history, as is Aviles' paltry signing bonus, which he used for a credit card bill at the time. Shortly before Spring Training this year, Cleveland signed the versatile infielder to a two-year contract worth $6 million, giving him a kind of security he had not experienced in the past.
"It gives me comfort knowing I'm going to be around here a couple years," Aviles said. "I've never had that before. It was always like I was playing and didn't know where I was going to be next year."
Aviles will be in Cleveland -- about 70 miles northeast of Ashland.
"To this day, I still say Ashland, Ohio, is one of the best places I've ever been," Aviles said with a smile. "The people there were unbelievably nice."