Willie Aybar’s path back

Tampa Bay Rays infielder Willie Aybar has battled his own demons to get himself back into baseball, and now he finds himself near the top of the heap, with the Rays and Phillies tied at 1 in the World Series. The New York Times reports on Aybar’s struggles with alcohol that threatened his baseball career. Just last year, in 2007 Aybar spent three months undergoing treatment for his addiction to alcohol. His 2007 baseball season was a write off. After playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, he was traded to the Rays by the Braves. He made his way back to the majors in time for the Rays 2008 season.

Aybar made his mark with the Rays when rookie third baseman Evan Longoria went down with a broken wrist in August. During the playoffs, he has platooned at DH with Cliff Floyd.

Acquiring a player with the history of Willie Aybar can be a risk. Something the Rays are very familiar with, having dealt with Josh Hamilton while he was in the worst depths of his addiction problems. The team did a lot of research, and decided Aybar was worth the risk. The gamble has paid off, probably never more so than in Game 7 of the ALCS when Aybar went deep off the Red Sox Jon Lester.

A winning locker room can be a treacherous place for a recovering alcoholic. Champagne and beer soaked celebrations are the norm, and the Rays have had the honour three times so far this season. Aybar has been almost a full participant in these. He enjoys the revelry with his teammates, and the spraying of champagne – while not imbibing himself. “Anybody that’s had a problem with alcohol knows what his limits are. I thank God I can celebrate. There’s no drinking involved.”

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