Former pro from WOS gives back
Cutline: Orange native Bruce Aven, second from left, joins Kevin Millar, left, David Bernsen and Rick Nesloney prior to throwing first pitches after they were inducted into the Lamar University Baseball Players Association Hall of Fame prior to Saturday’s game at Lamar.
Former pro from WOS gives back
By Dave Rogers
For The Record
Not many folks remember Bruce Aven as a speedy sophomore running back on West Orange-Stark’s 1987 state champion football team.
Before he wrapped up his WOS career two years later, he was All-District running back and defensive end for the Mustangs.
Baseball is what Bruce Aven is best known for, though, and Saturday’s induction into the Lamar University Baseball Hall of Fame confirmed it.
“Coach [Jim] Gilligan came back to coach at Lamar my sophomore year and we had some good seasons in 1993 and 1994,” Aven recalls.
Aven, one of Lamar’s most decorated hitters, was among the first five voted into the Lamar University Baseball Players Association Hall of Fame.
Others inductees honored at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont prior to Lamar’s May 13 game against Stephen F. Austin State included former Cardinal hurlers Harold Kincaid (1967-68), David Bernsen (1969-72) and Rick Nesloney (1976-77), and Aven’s 1993 Lamar teammate, Kevin Millar.
Millar, a Los Angeles native who played at Lamar during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, was a member of the 2004 “Reverse the Curse” Boston Red Sox World Series champions and hosts a daily show on MLB TV.
He and Aven teamed on a 44-18 Sun Belt Conference championship squad in 1993 and again, during their Major League Baseball careers, on the 1999 Florida Marlins.
That 1999 season proved to be the best season of Aven’s 10-year professional baseball career. He hit .297 in 137 games, with 12 home runs and 70 RBIs.
“Kevin Millar and I played together in college and we ended up playing again with the 1999 Florida Marlins,” Aven said. “We were the 3-4 hole hitters for Lamar and the Florida Marlins.”
A four-year letterman for Lamar, Aven ranks third all-time in at-bats and runs scored for Lamar, fourth in hits, fifth in triples and stolen bases, sixth in RBIs and seventh in total bases.
In 1993, he was voted All-Sun Belt Conference and won LU’s Al Vincent Award, which goes to the team’s best hitter. He was the Sun Belt’s RBI champion (67) and led Lamar in average (.380), runs (53), hits (87), home runs (13) and total bases (150) that season.
His .380 average in 1993 ranks ninth in a season at Lamar, as does his total of 87 hits in 1993. He is a three-time RBI leader for LU (1991, 1993, 1994).
He finished his college career with a four-year batting average of .304, with 240 base hits, 135 RBIs and 21 home runs.
Drafted 30th by the Cleveland Indians in 1994, Aven played five seasons in the majors with four teams, Cleveland, Florida, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, finishing with a .273 batting average.
Knee surgeries in 2001 and 2002 forced an early end to Aven’s career as a player, but, he says, also played a big part in his transition to private life.
Aven, who lives in Plantation, Fla., with wife Mary Ann, son Kolbe and daughter Macey, had developed a relationship with Plantation’s Memorial Hospital through the process of his injury rehab.
He worked with the hospital to start a sports academy, the Memorial Sports Center.
“When I couldn’t play anymore, I didn’t want to go back [to pro ball] and coach,” Aven said. “My Lamar degree is in exercise science. I said, ‘Let’s use it.’
“We run the business through the hospital. It’s really geared toward injured athletes,” Aven said. “We have doctors and physical therapists. And we do a bunch of things to help out the community, like clinics and camps.”
As son Kolbe began to play baseball, travel ball coaching was added to Aven’s resume.
Kolbe is a high school freshman now; sister Macey, a softball player, is in the seventh grade.
“I was just following my son,” said Aven, now 45. “I don’t coach any of the travel ball teams anymore.”
But once a coach …
Since 2012, Aven has been the high school baseball coach at American Heritage School at Plantation, a private college prep school with annual tuition of about $30,000, according to its website.
Aven’s team won the Florida state championship in 2012 and was declared national high school champ via polls.
This season’s American Heritage team is ranked No. 3 in the nation, he said.
“In six years, we’ve had over 40 kids who’ve gone on to play in college, some for teams like LSU and Florida. We’ve had eight or nine Major League draftees who played for me,” he said. “I expect a couple will get drafted from this year’s team and probably three next year.”
Along the way, Aven has picked up the jobs of director of football operations and assistant athletic director at American Heritage.
“Having my background at West Orange-Stark being in baseball and football, I also got tuned into being a football coach,” he said.
“This has been a true blessing for me. Being around young kids has given me a new life and new vision on how to help others out.”