It is safe to say that 2020 has been a very weird year for everyone. Sadly, one of the first consistent things we lost to the Covid-19 pandemic was sports, and most of us did not realize how much we missed them until they were gone. Thankfully, a Major League Baseball season is finally underway in late July, albeit a rather strange one. It will surely be a season that baseball, and sports fans everywhere, will not soon forget.
We were recently able to catch up with some prominent MLB players who share our same love of the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing. What we found were some down-to-earth pro athletes who unwind much in the same way as us, getting outside with a rod or rifle whenever possible.
Today our focus is on Minnesota Twins catcher Alex Avila. He has had a long run in MLB so far, starting his career in 2009, and has done stints with the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs and the Arizona Diamondbacks. When the man isn't situated behind home plate catching 100 mph fastballs, he likes to spend as much free time fishing as possible.
He told us that his love of angling was fostered in South Florida, his many adventures saltwater fishing in Florida and the Bahamas, his interest in tournament fishing and some of his favorite outdoor brands.
We have also noticed a trend of pro athletes who are looking to enter the outdoor industry once their playing careers are done, so we asked him about that possibility, too.
This is one of the rare times a pro ballplayer gets to talk about his interests outside of the sport where he makes his living. We were happy to provide the platform, and Alex seemed eager to share his thoughts.
Q&A with Alex Avila of the Minnesota Twins
WOS: With the coronavirus outbreak, did you get outside hunting and fishing more this spring? Or was your focus still on spring training?
Avila: "I was home in South Florida while baseball was shut down for the coronavirus. It gave me a lot of time to spend with my family. I was still working out and training for when we would eventually get back to playing but there was still quite a bit of down time to be able to fish and I took advantage. We entered in a couple of tournaments in South Florida that were able to proceed because they were meeting health guidelines and did pretty well. We finished third out of 60 boats in the Ft. Lauderdale Meat Mayhem tournament and also came in second in the non-pro division of the Fish Blue Water Saltwater Slam."
WOS: Tell us where your love for fishing started. Has it changed over the years? Has it been affected by your career?
Avila: "My love of fishing started as a young kid. Any chance we had my brother, cousin and I would go from lake to lake where we grew up in South Florida. When we weren't on a baseball field, my dad would rent a boat and take us out fishing. Sometimes we would go bass fishing in the Everglades, other times we would go out to the reef in the ocean to try and catch some snapper. My uncle also had a 23-foot Mako and when we could, he would take us and my cousin out on the boat. Around that time is when I fell in love with the ocean.
As a family we took advantage of living near the ocean. We were at the beach all the time, especially during the summer. I loved snorkeling around the reefs and I tried to take advantage of every chance I had to get on a boat. As my career started to take shape my love for the ocean and fishing never went away. It's always something I do to relax and to have some fun with family and friends. It's my hobby. Now there are times I have to put it on the back burner depending on baseball and my training schedule, but it will be something that I will enjoy for the rest of my life."
WOS: Do you fish with any of your baseball friends? Do you have a favorite memory of taking one out on the boat?
Avila: "There have been times where I have been able to go fishing with teammates and former teammates. There is more of an opportunity during the off season for that. Our schedule during the season makes it near impossible. One rare occasion was last year while with Arizona. Prior to our series against the Marlins in Miami we had a day off. For that day off, a few guys wanted me to take them fishing, so we went. It was a pretty calm day, so we went about 20+ miles offshore for swordfish. We came close to landing one that day, but came away empty handed.
Even though we didn't catch any fish, the experience for those guys was awesome. None had ever really done any type of offshore fishing, so seeing and learning something new was the goal. It was also one of the coolest days for me because it gave us a chance to bond and have a good time away from the baseball field."
WOS: What are your top fishing tips for someone new to the sport?
Avila: "For people who want learn and get into offshore fishing, the one thing I would suggest is to take a few trips with a local charter captain. That's probably the best way to learn about the local fishery and waterway. The captain and their mates are always willing to teach about different techniques they utilize depending on what is being targeted. You may not come away with honey hole fishing spots, because those are usually well-guarded secrets, but you will definitely come away with a local knowledge of the water, fish and techniques that are used."
WOS: Tell us about your favorite fishing memory.
Avila: "One of my best memories on the water was actually just a few years ago. In December of 2016, a few days after Christmas the weather was perfect to make a 25-mile run offshore to deep water and make a couple drifts for a swordfish. We ended up in a battle with the biggest fish we had ever caught, a 586-pound swordfish.
It was roughly a three-hour fight and once we were actually able to harpoon the fish, it had taken us on a 10-mile trek from where we hooked it to where we actually were able to get it in the boat. It was an incredible adventure for all of us on the boat that day and something that we will remember for the rest of our lives."
WOS: What is your favorite hunting and fishing season and why?
Avila: "I definitely go fishing more than I go hunting. I just really love being on a boat and on the water. Also the fact I live in South Florida makes for more opportunities. Because of the baseball season, the time of year I get those opportunities is the fall and winter. The ocean that time of year, as my best friend would say, can be "nautical." It's also one of the best times to get offshore and fish for wahoo and sailfish, two of my favorite fish to target.
It also kind of kicks off the tournament fishing season for us. The tournaments we enter, when we have time to fish, take us all over South Florida and The Bahamas. The fishing team consists of family and friends that I grew up fishing with, and competing in these tournaments gives us something fun to do and a way to gauge our skills against the pro teams that do it year round. Don't get me wrong, I love fun fishing and we do that all the time, but I also like the competition.
I've also been able to meet some really great people in the fishing and boating world and have learned so much just by observing and talking to them. It's also provided us with some incredible adventures."
WOS: When you hunt, do you bowhunt or rifle hunt and why?
Avila: "I've done both bow and rifle hunts. I enjoy both but if I had to choose, the added challenges that come with bowhunting make it that much more fun and exciting in my opinion."
WOS: Public land or private land hunting?
Avila: "While I was in college at Alabama that was something I looked forward to every fall and winter. It continued in the years after whether it was a trip to Pike County in Illinois or to Texas. Most of the time we hunt private land. It helped that I knew and am friends with people that either have ranches or farms and enjoy hunting as well.
Whether it's hunting or fishing, I always enjoy just being out there. I don't need to catch fish or harvest a deer for it to be a good trip. The beauty of nature and the camaraderie that comes from sharing those experiences with family and friends is what brings me back each time. The occasional trophy doesn't hurt either."
WOS: What are your favorite outdoor brands?
Avila: "One question I get all the time is what kind of boat do I have. I have a 39-foot SeaVee Z. It's a center console open fisherman. It's designed to have 360 degrees of fishability, and to be fast.
The engineering that went into this boat is incredible. One of the things I love about SeaVee is that you can customize the boat according to your needs. That is something I did as I went through the build process, making sure it's designed to meet our needs when we're fun fishing or fishing a tournament. Also, I made sure there are some creature comforts when you are just cruising around and enjoying the water.
Shimano fishing reels are the reels of choice for us. They are well made, fast and durable. One product we use all the time are the YETI Coolers. I have many uses for them. We use them to hold bait, fish, ice and food. Sometimes I use them as dock boxes to store boat gear. On our trips to the Bahamas we typically will use a couple of YETI 250s, one with all our groceries and food for the week. When you're there, you don't want to waste time going to the store. And one cooler is full of ice that we use throughout the week. Hopefully at the end they are filled up with fish for the trip back. We also use Huk fishing gear. When it comes to deck boots, foul weather gear and apparel you can't beat the quality and the design."
WOS: Are you planning a career in the hunting industry post-baseball? If so, what do you hope to do?
Avila: "I wouldn't necessarily say I'm planning a career in the outdoor or fishing industry once I'm retired from playing, but I'm keeping the option open. I love baseball and hope that I can continue to be involved after my playing career, but maybe there will be an opportunity to do both. I'd always figured on crossing that bridge when I get there.