Aven was released by the Cleveland Indians after major surgery to repair torn ligaments in his elbow wiped out his 1998 season. Unable to hold the bat after the operation, he began wrapping sticky tape around the handle to help his grip. “[My arm] got so scrawny that an old lady could have broken it,” he later explained to the Miami Herald. “Nothing against old ladies, because some of them are strong. But that’s how bad it got.”
Aven was strong, too, despite his diminutive size. He fought back to win a job with the Marlins in 1999, turning heads in South Florida with his uncanny ability to produce off the bench. His hot bat eventually earned him a regular outfield job, but Florida shipped him to Pittsburgh after the season for veteran Brant Brown — less than a month after Aven bought a new home north of Miami. Aven returned to a utility role with the Pirates, and was traded again to Los Angeles before the end of the season.
Aven’s fascination with reptiles somehow earned him a reputation for wrestling alligators in his spare time, an exaggerated rumor that the outfielder said nothing to dispel. “When I threw my arm out, I was sitting around at home watching TV, thinking of all the things I wanted to do,” Aven told Sports Illustrated during the 1999 season. “Wrestle a gator is one of them.” A photo of Aven atop a six-foot gator accompanied the story, but it wasn’t clear if Aven actually subdued the reptile himself.