Avila reflects on time with Marlins, '97 Series

Former Florida front-office member recalls championship run

Avila reflects on time with Marlins, '97 Series

MIAMI -- Livan Hernandez hoisting the 1997 World Series MVP Award trophy high above his head and proclaiming, "I love you Miami!" is one of the most memorable moments in Marlins' history.

Reminiscing 20 years later on the Marlins' first championship, Tigers vice president of baseball operations and general manager Al Avila, then with the Marlins, recalls 1997 didn't start off too promising for Hernandez, then a 22-year-old who didn't make the big league club coming out of Spring Training.

"I signed Livan Hernandez after he defected from Cuba," Avila said Sunday on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. "That was one of the things that was really, really tough that year because Livan didn't make the club out of Spring Training. He became really a problem child at the time."

One of the themes for the Marlins in 2017 is honoring the 20th anniversary of their first championship. Avila was asked about the championship run on the "Front Office" show, hosted by Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden on Sunday.

MLBN Radio: Avila on Hernandez

Raised in South Florida, Avila was the Marlins' director of Latin American operations and director of scouting in the 1990s. The 58-year-old had a hand in both of Miami's World Series titles -- 1997 and 2003.

Avila was the driving force in signing Hernandez and Edgar Renteria, who delivered the World Series-winning hit in 1997. He also signed Miguel Cabrera and selected Josh Beckett second overall in the 1999 MLB Draft. Cabrera and Beckett, of course, were key contributors in 2003.

The way 1997 started, Hernandez was an improbable World Series hero.

After opening the season in Triple-A, former Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski sent Avila to tell Hernandez, who was being a handful for the coaching staff in Charlotte, that he was being demoted to Double-A.

"What I remember most about that year was I had to get down there, get Livan and take him to Portland, Maine, to send him to our Double-A team," Avila said.

Livan's 15-strikeout gem

Carlos Tosca was at Portland, and able to keep Hernandez in line.

"[Tosca] really did a great job with Livan," Avila recalls. "Then about halfway through the year, we had to bring him up. It was a doubleheader against the Yankees, and he won his first game."

Hernandez made his 1997 debut on June 15, and he eventually made 17 starts and was 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA, helping picking up the slack after Alex Fernandez was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

The courtship of Hernandez was a lengthy process, Avila said. After becoming a free agent, the Marlins made a strong push, including taking him to Hard Rock Stadium, then the home of the Marlins.

"We put on the big video board kind of a highlight of him pitching us into the World Series and winning the World Series," Avila said. "The funny thing about it is obviously he ended up doing it. It was an amazing time really for Miami, and he really captured the hearts of the Miami Cuban population and he became very popular at the time."

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.