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Avilan realizing dream as part of Atlanta bullpen

ATLANTA -- Luis Avilan was an 8-year old in Caracas, Venezuela, when Andres Galarraga came to the Braves as a free agent in November 1997. Galarraga was Avilan's favorite player, partially because he was from Caracas, but mostly because Avilan, then a first baseman, looked up to Galarraga.

With Galarraga's signing, the Braves became Avilan's favorite team.

Two years later, Galarraga and the Braves came to Venezuela to play an exhibition. Avilan remembers going to watch the game.

"Finally seeing my hero, that was a big moment for me," Avilan said.

Avilan would later switch positions to become a left-handed pitcher, and he then drew the attention of scouts. He signed with the Braves, and this July, 12 years after watching the exhibition game in Venezuela, Avilan made his Major League debut.

Avilan's callup was a surprise. He had started the season with Double-A Mississippi and pitched in its rotation for three months before he was told he would be promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he would pitch out of the bullpen.

"I said, 'OK, that's fine,'" Avilan said.

But on July 4, before he had even joined Gwinnett, an injury to left-hander Jonny Venters prompted the Braves to decide Avilan would be coming directly to the Major Leagues.

"They called me to the office in Double-A and they told me I would be going to the big leagues," Avilan said. "I was in shock, because I was supposed to go to Triple-A first. That was a surprise for me. That was pretty cool."

Avilan made his debut July 14 against the Mets and pitched well enough to stick in the Braves' bullpen, even once Venters returned from the disabled list. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has used him both as a matchup left-hander and as more of a long man, and Avilan has pitched well in both roles.

While Avilan hasn't had the chance to meet Galarraga, he said he reflects every day about how far he has come to play on the same field and dress in the same clubhouse as did his hero.

"Four months ago, I was in Double-A, and I'm here now trying to fight for a place in the playoffs," Avilan said. "It's very good."

Atlanta Braves, Luis Avilan