His first taste of the Major League Baseball experience lasted only 15 games, but 2007 Aflac/PG All-American Xavier Avery is confident that when a second sampling comes, it will last a lot longer.
Avery, a 6-foot, 190-pound left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder in the Baltimore Orioles organization, made his MLB debut on May 13 in Baltimore in an American League East game between the division leading Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays. Hitting leadoff, Avery went 0-for-4 but couldn't have been more thrilled with the opportunity offered him.
"It was great. It's the best feeling ever getting called up to the big leagues," Avery said in a telephone conversation Friday afternoon. "That's what I've been working for my whole life and it paid off. Now I'm just trying to get back there and stay there; my goal is to stay there."
Avery played 14 more games with the surprising Orioles and finished his short stay collecting 13 hits in 60 at-bats (.217) with four doubles, a triple, four RBI and nine runs. He is now back at Triple-A Norfolk in the International League, hoping he gets another call-up real soon.
Avery graduated from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga., in 2008 ranked as Perfect Game's No. 17 national prospect in his class and the No.2 national outfield prospect. He carried a 3.8 GPA and in high school and had signed a letter-of-intent with the University of Georgia.
That got shelved when the Orioles took him in the second round of the 2008 amateur draft and he was soon on his way to the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League to begin his professional career. He's been in the minor leagues for five seasons now and in 485 games he's managed to hit .266 with 18 home runs, 91 doubles, 19 triples, 151 RBI, 260 runs and 125 stolen bases.
He said, like just about everyone else in his situation, it took time to acclimate himself to the minor-league lifestyle.
"The first long season, that's a grind," Avery said. "It's a grind playing a 140 games and there's no way around it, either. You've got to get used to playing 140 games and your body has to get to used to it; coming out of high school I definitely had to get used to it. I could handle being away (from home) but you still have to get used to playing every day. You have to learn how to keep your body in shape and maintain your energy all the time."
He also said he was a little surprised when he got the call to join the big club on May 13.
"Did I think I would make it up there this early? No, I didn't think I'd get called up this early," Avery said. "As a matter of fact, I got called up due to all the injuries we've had up there. You never know what's going to happen.
"It was a great experience for me," he continued. "I got my feet wet and I wound up facing some real good pitching while I was up there. I got exposed to a lot of things; I went to Canada for the first time and there were a lot of things that I saw for the first time. It was a great experience for me."
After 35 games in Norfolk, Avery was hitting .265 with five home runs and 16 RBI.
Avery attended 16 Perfect Game events while in high school, including eight PG WWBA and three PG BCS Finals tournaments, along with five showcase events. He performed in both the 2005 and 2006 Perfect Game National Underclass Showcase in Fort Myers, Fla., the 2007 Perfect Game National Showcase in Cincinnati and the 2008 Perfect Game World Showcase in Fort Myers.
"I don't think I would have been drafted without those showcases. I don't think I would have been noticed," he said. "Coming from a high school where baseball is not very big, I feel like if it wasn't for all those showcases I wouldn't be where I'm at today."
The granddaddy showcase event of them all came when he played in the 2007 Aflac All-American Classic at the University of San Diego. His East Squad teammates included first round draft picks Eric Hosmer, Brett DeVall, Tim Beckham, Sonny Gray and Ethan Martin; there were five more first round picks on the West Squad, including 2011 No. 1 overall selection Gerritt Cole.
"It was kind of like going to an all-star game," Avery said. "You put in the hard work and I got noticed enough to go that game with all the top players in the nation right there. A lot of those guys I played with and against at that game, I still know now. We all still know each other and we're all still cool with each other."
When playing in the WWBA and BCS Finals tournaments, Avery suited up for the storied East Cobb Astros and East Cobb Braves, based in Marietta, Ga. Like so many other top prospects before him, the East Cobb experience was crucial to Avery's development.
"I got exposed there to a new culture of baseball," Avery said. "When I saw the atmosphere up there, and going to different states to play against the top competition in the nation, it was all good. It was a great experience."
Avery, still just 22 years old, now has the goal to return to the big leagues and this time stay a little bit longer - perhaps even for good. There's no doubt in his mind he will succeed.
"I've always been confident, as long as I continue to work hard and do what I need to do," Avery said. "Of course I feel like I'll get back up there soon."