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Facing free agency, Alex Avila reflects on what was possibly his last game as a Tiger at home

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For the first time in his major league career, Avila's future with the Tigers is uncertain as free agency looms.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- Manager Brad Ausmus let Alex Avila make the decision on whether he wanted to start in Sunday's game, knowing that it could very well be Avila's last at home on the team. If Sunday was Avila's last home game as a member of the Detroit Tigers, it was a good one for the books. The 28-year-old is headed into the offseason in a week faced with uncertainty after seven years with the Tigers -- the only team he's ever played for.

"I went about as I did every game," Avila remarked. "It didn't really hit me until before going out there. It could be my last one. I would have liked for it to end differently, but that's how the game went. But I enjoyed myself. ... One thing to remember, what we have done the last four years, that is not easy by any ways. You can make it look easy, but it's not. Not many teams can do that. We were going for our fifth but unfortunately we weren't able to do it this year."

In some ways, it's come full circle for Avila. He learned his craft at the major league level through former Tigers catcher Gerald Laird. Now, Avila's providing his own insight for James McCann as the two catchers have swapped roles. Avila has been a solid catcher since his 2011 All-Star selection and career-year. But since then he's dealt with a string of injuries that have now left him struggling to hit above .200, and there have been some defensive mistakes here and there that wouldn't have existed prior.

The 2015 season was tough for Avila, not just because of his lack of offense but because of his knees, which didn't want to work like good knees should. It affected his swing, obviously he lost time at the plate. And in the process had to give way to McCann, who's now bearing the full brunt of the catching duties -- a tall order for a 25-year-old rookie catcher.

Avila finished well, though, putting up a 1-for-3 day at the plate and ending it on a walk to start a threat in the ninth. His first and only hit was a double through the shift. It wasn't enough to put him over the Mendoza Line as Avila is now hitting .193/.343/.292 with the lowest home run (four) of his major league career. But that's baseball. At least during his time with the Tigers -- if Sunday was the end -- Avila said he's enjoyed every minute of it.

"I've had a great time doing it," Avila had said before Sunday's game. "It'll definitely be sad if this is my last game here at Comerica. But at the same time, new opportunities are exciting. ... I wouldn't say that I have a favorite (memory). I think being part of four straight years, that's pretty special. That's never been done (before) in this organization. That's over a hundred years, that's incredible. Getting a chance to catch as much as I have in the playoffs and games, that's pretty amazing."

Avila still believes he's valuable to be a starting catcher. He's hoping he'll be healthy next year and he can put the last couple seasons behind him. Whether that's with Detroit is unseen as of yet. But that doesn't bother Avila. He's dealt with uncertainty his entire life. Baseball's a part of his family and it's impossible to separate the two. For Avila, he's approaching this offseason no differently, and whatever happens, happens.

"I've had a great time doing it. It'll definitely be sad if this is my last game here at Comerica."

If he doesn't return to the Tigers, the tough part will be going into a new clubhouse for the first time in his life and not seeing the same faces every day. It's given Avila some pause. Free agency is something most players look forward to and Avila said he's no different. Avila been able to mentor McCann as the leadership roles changed hands and if Sunday was the end, Avila is confident that the Tigers' pitching staff is left in very capable hands with McCann behind the plate.

And as for the fans, Avila considers it a privilege to have been able to play for them for so long. The experience, for him, has been unforgettable.

"It's been amazing," he said. "I may have told this story over the years, but I remember when we moved here and my dad started working here. That was in the middle of the 2003 season and they lost 119 games. We get here in the summertime and I was used to going to Marlin games. I get here and go to the first Tigers game and there's 25,000 people in the stands for a team that was losing 119 games.

"There were more (people) in the stadium each game during that season then there were for the Marlins that season, and (the Marlins) won the World Series that year. That was pretty impressive and something that always stuck with me."