Sask major leaguer tours province before heading to South Korea

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Andrew Schopp
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Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Andrew Albers gives youngsters a basic baseball skills clinic at the Alfred Jenkins Field House on Wednesday as part of the Cameco Dream and Beleive program. Albers and Cameco toured the province putting on sills clinics for local youth while making equiptment donations to schools in North Battleford, Regina and Prince Albert. Herald photo by Andrew Schopp

Former Minnesota Twins pitcher and North Battleford native Andrew Albers is taking his talents to South Korea. 

Signing a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization on Wednesday, the 28-year-old lefty doesn’t quite know what to expect.

“The league’s pretty new, it was developed in 1988 and they play 128 games,” Albers said when asked what he knows about the baseball scene in South Korea. “Baseball is baseball. It’s 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound to home plate and it’s 90 feet between the bases, that part of the game doesn’t change.” 

Albers said he departs for South Korea on Sunday, but before he does, he is spreading his message of overcoming adversity throughout Saskatchewan as part of the Cameco Dream and Believe program.

While putting on a baseball skills clinic for Prince Albert youngsters at the Alfred Jenkins Field House on Wednesday, Albers spread his message of hard work and perseverance, which he knows all too well through his journey to the major leagues. 

“I went through a lot of ups and downs in my minor league and collegiate career,” Albers said. “It’s amazing how far hard work and perseverance can take you and that’s the message I try to get out to the kids. There are going to be people who doubt you but you have to know what you’re made of, believe in yourself and pursue your dream.”

As the eighth major leaguer hailing from Saskatchewan, Albers posted a record of 2-5 with a 4.05 earned-run average for the Twins last season. Albers negotiated a contract buyout with the Twins in the off-season, allowing him to appear on the mound regularly in Korea. 

Prince Albert served as the last stop of the Dream and Believe tour, where Albers and uranium company Cameco travelled throughout the province, conducting skills clinics and making baseball equipment donations to local schools.

“Andrew is just a great Saskatchewan role model, he was interested in partnering with us so it’s worked out really well,” Cameco communications manager, Jonathan Huntington said. “They (students) gravitate right towards Andrew’s message, it’s a message of believing in your dreams and beating adversity along the way.” 

Huntington added that Albers, who in the off-season serves as a substitute teacher at his alma mater John Paul II Collegiate in North Battleford, is the perfect spokesman, combining education and athletic prowess.

“He has education in his back pocket while at the same time succeeding at the highest level of baseball,” Huntington said. “His story is really special and the kids are buying into it.”

Albers struggled to make it to the big leagues. Drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004, he was unable to secure a contract and was again drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2008. 

After signing a deal with the Padres, he was released in 2010 and picked up as a free agent by the Twins in 2011.

Albers finally made his major league debut with the Twins on Aug. 6, pitching eight innings in a 7-0 triumph over the Kansas City Royals. 

Both Albers and Huntington hope their tour of clinics and equipment donations will help to boost baseball’s dwindling participation numbers in the province. 

“I’ve heard the number are down and it’s unfortunate,” Albers said. “Baseball presents a lot of great opportunities and life lessons for kids, there are a lot of valuable lessons that can be learned by getting out on the diamond and playing baseball.”

Saying he received some odd looks from his mostly American teammates in the majors over his Saskatchewan roots, one can only imagine the reaction he’ll receive in Daejeon, South Korea, home of the Eagles.

“I don’t even bother telling them my hometown,” Albers said. “I just say ‘Saskatchewan’ and they still give me a blank stare. It comes with the territory.” 

andrew.schopp@paherald.sk.ca

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