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Avila returns as concussion awareness grows

The SportsXchange

DETROIT -- Alex Avila is back on the job, and wiser about concussions.

The Detroit Tigers' regular catcher was activated off the seven-day concussion disabled list Tuesday and returned to the Tigers' starting lineup. He wound up going 0-for-2 in a rain-shortened 6-3 loss to Oakland.

He will wear a heavier mask with more padding in the hopes it will reduce the effects of the many foul tips that hit him on the mask, plus the assorted bat backswings. He's wearing a new mask but is also getting a prototype of a newer mask to try in the near future.

"There's always a risk," Avila said. "Equipment is evolving, always getting better.

"Look at the NFL. Their helmets are as good as they come, yet they still get concussions. It comes with the territory."

Entering Tuesday, there had been 18 uses of the concussion disabled list, which is in its third year, and 10 have involved catchers. Five catchers are currently on the list.

Avila said he'd had many discussions with the doctors about concussions. The high number of times Avila takes a ball off the mask could be a factor, although that's unknown territory.

Avila's incident happened Aug. 8 but he suffered a delayed reaction.

He was cleared to travel to New York after the team plane had gone but was held out of the starting lineup Aug. 9 as a precaution. Avila started Aug. 10 but did not complete the game and the next day realized he could not play when a headache got worse and nausea set in during batting practice.

"I've played through some pretty painful stuff," he said, "but I knew I couldn't play through that."

Detroit put him on the disabled list that day, although he took the team plane to Chicago and his wife drove home from there.

"I thought at the end of the seven days I'd be ready," he said. "I pretty much just laid around for four or five days."

Last weekend, Avila was sent out on a rehab assignment, with one game cut short when the headache came back.

"Guys are definitely more aware (of concussions) now," he said. "When I first game into the league, which was only five years ago, it was something that was talked about but definitely not to the extent it is now. There's always a risk."

The time off made him aware of another consideration. There's life after baseball, which he realizes more and more due to his wife and infant daughter.

"It has been on my mind," he said. "I'm fortunate that I have people about me who care about me as far as making sure I'm healthy. And there's been so much support from the fans."

--The Sports Xchange team correspondents contributed to this report.
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