MINNEAPOLIS - Twins' rookie Andrew Albers, a native of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, is scheduled to start Sunday's game against the Blue Jays.
The outing will be Albers' seventh big league start, the first two of which drew national headlines. In his debut, on August 6 in Kansas City, he held the Royals to four hits over 8 1/3 innings. His next start was even more impressive: a complete game, two-hit shutout of the Indians in Minnesota.
Albers, who was drafted twice, is 2-2 with a 3.96 ERA over his six starts. Albers missed the 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. He's played college ball, minor league ball, on the Canadian national team, in independent pro ball and is now in the big leagues.
It's been quite a ride for the 27-year-old, who sat down with TSN.ca to reflect on his path to Minneapolis. Listen to the audio or read the transcript below.
TSN.ca: Andrew, you've got a great story so let's go back to the beginning and I'll ask you, and you'll understand this because I'm Canadian too, we'll get the stereotypes out of the way. How does a kid from North Battleford, Saskatchewan pick baseball over hockey?
ALBERS: Well, I obviously played hockey when I was younger a little bit and found out at an early age that I wasn't that good at it so I had to find something else to do. That was one of the things that it came down to. I've always enjoyed baseball a little bit more than I have hockey. Part of it is probably the success that I've had playing baseball but, you know, I think I made a good choice and I'm very happy with where I'm at right now.
TSN.ca: In North Battleford, obviously, you go through the Canadian elements. It's not a 12-month a year deal. How were you able to develop your game, keep up your game with a short season?
ALBERS: Well, to be honest, it's actually a little bit beneficial when you have that short season. It allows you to do some other things and play some other sports, which I was fortunate to do in high school. You don't get burned out. I think at times, nowadays, there are times when kids get too much of one sport. Everyone wants to be specialized. They want to play hockey all year, they want to play football down here, whatever the case is and at the same time, it's nice to be able to play some other sports. You're really able to focus on the sport you're playing at that time because you know it's a short season, it doesn't drag on, it ends pretty quick so you've got to make the most of your opportunities and really focus on the time that you're on the field or on the court playing that particular sport.
TSN.ca: When was it apparent to you that you were, not just good at baseball, but miles ahead of all your teammates and competition up in Canada?
ALBERS: Well I don't know if I'd say that…
TSN.ca: Well, you got drafted though.
ALBERS: Got drafted, yeah. There were a lot of good players back home. I mean, it was one of those things where I'd been able to have some success and you know, you never know, the draft was a surprise to me. I thought there was maybe a chance, getting drafted a lot later, but I'd made it pretty clear I was probably going to go to school. I wasn't even home when it happened. I was on a school trip somewhere and was shocked when somebody told me that that had happened. It was one of those things that was a surprise and I guess somebody saw something in me and it was a great honour, a tremendous feeling. It was neat to get to go through that process but, you know, at the same time it's just one of those things where you continue to work hard, you continue to try to have success and you let it take you as far as it has. Fortunately for me, I've caught some breaks along the way and it's led to this point and I couldn't be happier with it.
TSN.ca: Milwaukee, that's what you're talking about, took you in the 12th round in '04. When they drafted you, did that change your thinking? Did you talk to them seriously or were you committed to Kentucky? Obviously, you did the full ride there, but how did that play out in '04?
ALBERS: There's always some serious consideration when you go that high and back then, the rules were a little bit different where there weren't the hard slots and things like that. We started talking from a financial standpoint, what it would take, and different ideas were thrown back and forth. There were a couple of guys, Dick Roach and one of his associates came up and had dinner with me and we talked about it and things like that. When you get drafted in a position like that, it's a serious offer, something you have to take seriously so I certainly listened to both sides and for me, I just felt like it was a better decision to go to college. And it's not a decision I regret even though my college career didn't go quite as well as I would have liked. At the same time, Lexington was a great fit for me and I was really fortunate to get the opportunity to go there and be a part of some special teams and a great coaching staff that I had there really helped me develop. I wouldn't have it any other way and no regrets there.
TSN.ca: So let's fast-forward four years, from 2004 to 2008 when you were drafted, again, by the San Diego Padres. What was that first experience in pro ball like for you?
ALBERS: It wasn't very good, to be honest. I got drafted and that part was good, I was feeling good at the end of the year and then all of a sudden, I went over to Arizona and I hurt myself right away. Unfortunately, it was an injury that just never went away and I ended up having Tommy John the next year. It was a little bit of an inauspicious start to a professional career and certainly not the way you want to go about starting but, unfortunately, it was one of those things that happened. I learned from it and it helped give me a little bit different perspective on the game and I think going through that kind of adversity and things like that, you face some adversity and it helps you along the way. You realize what's important, it helps change your perspective on things and moving forward, it's a blessing in disguise.
TSN.ca: So back in 2009, what's going through you head because at that point you're 23, going on 24, there's a window in this game and in every pro sport and it closes reasonably quickly. You're lucky if you get to 35 or 40. A year away from the game, how'd you recalibrate during that time?
ALBERS: It's one of those things, as I said, your perspective kind of changes. For me, after surgery, rehab didn't go very well at the beginning. I was having a tough time getting my range of motion back. Now, all of a sudden, what's important is not even whether I can throw again, it's just being able to move my arm. It allows you to realize how much you take things for granted even though you don't think you do. It makes you appreciate the opportunities you do get a little bit more. When I get the chance to go out and put a uniform now and get to go play and compete against the best players in the world, it's an opportunity I try not to take for granted. I try to make the most of it, try to go out there and enjoy it. You never know how long the ride is going to last. Each time you get to go out there, it's special. That's how I try to approach it and like I said, you never know when it's going to end.
TSN.ca: I lived and worked in Ottawa for a while so I remember the Can-Am League when it made a year or two-long stop up there and that's where you pitched, for the Quebec City-based team in 2010. You're in pro ball but not affiliated pro ball; you're literally starting from scratch at that point, aren't you?
ALBERS: A little bit. I mean, it's one of those things, it's a good league, it's not a bad league. It's certainly tough to get back into the affiliated baseball from the independent leagues but there are some guys who've done it. I mean, we've got a guy, Chris Colabello, that played seven years in the Can-Am League and finally got his opportunity and, again, made the most of it and here he is up here right now and he's trying to make his way through it as well. It's one of those things that's possible and for me, that was my first season back. It was my first chance to play every day. In college, you play five times a week tops. There, in the Can-Am League, you're playing six, maybe seven times a week and you get an off day every two weeks kind of deal. For me, coming off surgery, I wasn't sure how the arm would respond and I wasn't sure if I'd be able to handle that kind of workload. Fortunately, it went really well and I was able to rebound and have a good year. Unfortunately, I didn't have a secure job the next year so that led to the trip and that whole deal the next year. It's one of those things, when you look back on it, you don't want to have those regrets and you don't want to wonder, hey what if I would have done this, what if I would have done that, would things have been different? I feel pretty good about that. I can look back and say that I gave it a real shot and obviously now that it's culminated in being up here, it's been pretty special.
TSN.ca: Tell us about your time with the national team and the couple of medals. You won the bronze at the World Baseball Cup and the gold at the Pan Am Games. Was that really the moment for you when you realized I'm on the right track and can grab another shot at the brass ring?
ALBERS: Fortunately for me, I'd been with the Twins there for a couple of seasons going into that so I was kind of on that route anyways. Getting a chance to play for the national team is always special. For me, it was my first opportunity and I was so thankful to Greg (Hamilton) to give me that opportunity and then to go out and be able to pitch the way I was able to and contribute to the team's success was a pretty special feeling. It was one of the best runs we've had, as a country, as a men's senior baseball team, it was special. A great group of guys, we really came together in a short period of time. It made it a lot of fun, going out to the diamond every day and playing with those guys, and there were no egos there. It was very unselfish baseball and it was a lot of fun. It was fun to go back to where winning was the only thing that mattered anymore. It wasn't about your stats or your numbers, it was all about what can you do to help the team win. That's the attitude that everybody took and it made it a lot of fun. We were able to go out and have some success and certainly getting the chance to pitch in the gold medal game against the States and be able to win that game, it was a special night and one that I'll never forget. That, along with the big league debut, are two of the nights that I'll never forget. They're the highlights of my career thus far and it's been a lot of fun.
TSN.ca: Other than a no-hitter, I don't think you could have scripted a better big league debut and here we are, exactly a month later, wasn't it August 6 when you were out there? How incredible was that? You're sitting at your locker after the game. What are you thinking?
ALBERS: You're thinking you can't believe that just happened. It was one of those nights where everything just went right. Fortunately for me, I was able to have back-to-back nights when that happened. They're pretty special when they come around. In this game, they don't come around very often. I think in the three years before that, I'd thrown three complete games in my career and one shutout. It's not like it was something that I was doing pretty consistently. It's a special night. It's hard to do. There aren't many guys, you go through a season, I don't know what you have in a season, I'd have to look at the numbers, I'm guessing you have maybe 20-25 in a whole season, complete game shutouts. They're few and far between and you've got guys out there with a lot better stuff than I have. It's like I said, it's one of those things when things go right that night. You're on and you're able to locate with everything and you're able to get ahead. They're going to hit some balls hard. It's just those balls happened to get caught. The defence behind me was just outstanding that night. It was a lot of fun and you really try to appreciate those nights when they come around because you know, if you've been in this game a little while, you know they don't happen very often. It was really special.
TSN.ca: You're not a flamethrower by any stretch, 89, maybe you hit 90mph. What is the key to your success when you're out there on the mound?
ALBERS: I've got to locate and I've got to get strike one. I've got to get ahead. If you're ahead in the count, you get away with a few more mistakes, you get away with some pitches that maybe aren't in the greatest location and you get away with a borderline pitch. Now, instead of guys being able to take it if you're 1-0 and it's 1-1, now they're more apt to swing if you're 0-1 because they don't want to get to 0-2. Nobody likes striking out. It's one of those things where I try to get guys in and out of the box as quickly as I can. I'm going to be aggressive, I'm going to go after them and I'm going to let the defence work behind me. They've been outstanding for me so far this year and I'm sure that will continue. That's a big part of my game. I need them to play well behind me or I'm going to be in trouble. I just don't have the stuff to go out there and strike 10, 12 guys out. You've got to find a different way to get it done. It doesn't mean it isn't possible, it doesn't mean it's any different, it's just a matter of finding different ways to succeed. So far, I've been pretty pleased with most of my starts out there. They've been really close. A pitch here, a couple of pitches there and that's that learning curve and the adjustments that you have to make and be able to make just that split second sooner so that you can go out and instead of giving up four or five, you give up two or three and give the team a little bit better chance to win and that's what it's all about right now.
TSN.ca: Now are you still a Canadian kid at heart? Do you still winter up at home? I know you've probably got some better options. How do you spend your free time when you're down from baseball?
ALBERS: I go home. I go home and I've actually been substitute teaching at my old high school there. Still a Saskatchewan boy, born and bred, and still go back there and I'll probably be back there this offseason. We'll see what happens. It'll be a little bit more of an interesting offseason I think this year. Not quite sure what it has in store for me but at the same time, it's nice to go back home and be part of the community that brought you up and to be able to give back a little bit. I think that's really important. It's something that I want to be able to do and it's something that I'll kind of work towards. It's one of those things. You're part of a community and the community has supported you your whole career. Now that you've gotten up here, you're not going to abandon them. It's one of those things. They're a part of you. That's part of what's made you here and allowed you to be successful. Without the support back home, without the opportunities I've had back home, I don't get here. Everyone's played a role in that and there are a lot of people who've touched my life in a profound way back there and to be able to go back there and maybe give a little bit back, it's special.
TSN.ca: You're paving the way for substitute teachers. You might be the guy who gets respect, finally, from the students.
ALBERS: From what I've heard, Delabar went through a similar route so he knows what it's like. It's one of those things, and like I said, we'll see what happens there, but again that's not what it's about. It's about going back and being able to give back and that's what's important.
TSN.ca: We're always proud when a Canadian does well so congratulations and continued success.
ALBERS: Thanks a lot, Scott, I appreciate it.