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Avila, Dombrowski remain close after changes

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Al Avila spent close to two decades working by Dave Dombrowski's side. For a moment at this week's General Managers Meetings, he was back there again.

As GMs gathered for an organized media session Tuesday, Avila and Dombrowski ended up in the same room. While Avila stood in the middle of the ballroom, talking about the Tigers' offseason needs with MLB Network and Detroit writers, Dombrowski was off to his left, talking with Boston writers and other national media about his first offseason in charge of the Red Sox.

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They were maybe a few yards apart, but in separate worlds. As their careers have taken separate paths, that's how it's going to be.

These meetings marked the first time they were in the same room since the day Dombrowski was dismissed in Detroit and Avila was promoted to GM, though they had talked since then. They chat as friends, they say. They're just not co-workers anymore.

"Anytime you've worked together for a long period of time and then you don't, obviously it always feels a little awkward," Avila said. "But it's no different than a GM changing jobs or a guy getting promoted or a guy leaving one area to go to another. There's always the newness of the change, and change to us human beings sometimes takes a little getting used to. But after a little while, we get used to it and then change becomes the norm."

The friendship, Dombrowski said, remains.

"There was some awkwardness to the situation, but we've been friends for a long time," Dombrowski said. "It just changes The other thing, too, is we were friends, but I was also his boss. I'm not the boss anymore, so I can have a different relationship with some of them because I'm not their boss. But now they're also on the opposing team."

Avila got his start in pro baseball working for Dombrowski with the Marlins, moving up from assistant director of Latin American operations in 1992 to assistant GM in 2001. Dombrowski left Florida to become Tigers president/CEO, leaving Avila as interim Marlins GM for the 2001-02 offseason. By mid-April of 2002, they were together again, with Avila as a vice president and Dombrowski's top assistant.

Dombrowski kept his inner circle together in Detroit for 14 years, from Avila to baseball legal counsel John Westhoff to player personnel director Scott Reid. Avila drew interest as a GM candidate from other clubs, but Dombrowski kept him, eventually negotiating a deal that paid him well while allowing the Tigers to deny teams permission.

Avila was a GM candidate in waiting if Dombrowski ever relinquished day-to-day duties. Instead, owner Mike Ilitch replaced Dombrowski with Avila shortly after the Trade Deadline. The inner circle all stayed; the only change was at the top.

Dombrowski was out of work for just two weeks. While Avila attended Major League Baseball owners meetings in Chicago representing the Tigers, Dombrowski went there to interview with the Red Sox. Shortly after, he was hired, building a new inner circle.

Aside from Frank Wren, who was Dombrowski's assistant in Florida before becoming Braves general manager, virtually all of Dombrowski's hires were in the organization before him.

"I know them a little better [now]," Dombrowski said, "but I've only worked with them for three months almost now. That's a lot different than working with somebody for years. We're getting to know each other."

At some point they'll have a similar relationship to what he had in Detroit. But that might take some time. For his old group, there's memories.

"I mean, they're not only work acquaintances, they're friends, all those guys there," Dombrowski said. "But I've been in that spot before. It's like here I see Tony La Russa. Tony's one of my best friends and I don't sit down with him, either. Yet when I see him [outside of meetings], we sit down and we're friendly and we talk. And that's the same way with those guys. It's an unusual industry that way."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.
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