Andrew Albers is a member of an exclusive club, but he’s not quite ready to join the alumni chapter just yet.
The 35-year-old pitcher from North Battleford is one of just nine Saskatchewan-born baseball players to make it to the Major Leagues, and in the two or three years that he estimates are left in his playing career, he’s looking for one more shot in the show.
“The realization that I’m getting a bit older is starting to set in and you realize that it’s probably not gonna last much longer,” Albers said.
“You try and enjoy it a bit more ’cause you don’t know when that last opportunity is gonna be.”
The left-hander last pitched in the bigs with the Seattle Mariners in 2017, posting a 5-1 record and a 3.51 earned-run average in nine games including six starts. He also recorded his first career save.
After the season, Albers was released by the Mariners and headed overseas to play for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball, the top league in Japan. He spent three seasons with the Buffaloes, earning an all-star nod in 2018.
“They love their baseball in Japan. The fans there create a tremendous atmosphere, it’s a really positive atmosphere, it’s a lot of fun to play in front of. They just really love their baseball. I loved the culture there,” he said.
Though he enjoyed many aspects of his playing experience in Japan, Albers never closed the door on a possible return to North America.
When the Buffaloes didn’t offer him a new contract following the 2020 season, Albers’ focus on a major league comeback intensified.
“It’s always a goal, right? You’re never satisfied. I’m very content with how things have gone but that doesn’t mean you don’t want more. It would be nice to get one more shot up there,” he said.
He’s already taken the first and most important step. Albers recently signed a minor league contract with the Minnesota Twins, the same team with whom he made his major league debut in 2013. It will be his third stint with the Twins organization, having also spent time with the club in 2016.
“It’s a situation I’ve been in before, something I’m used to and just happy to have that opportunity, you know. If I can make the team out of camp and just get the opportunity to play at that level, I’ll be really happy about that.”
But Albers also understands that making the Twins’ opening-day roster may be a tall order given his lengthy absence from MLB.
“(I) probably won’t make (the) club out of camp but at the same time, get that opportunity in AAA and if you can go and pitch well early on or pitch well throughout the season, you know maybe get that opportunity a little bit later,” he said.
It also helps that after battling a variety of injuries in Japan including a herniated disc, a broken bone fragment in his back that eventually required surgery, and a bout with plantar fasciitis, Albers is the healthiest he’s been in quite some time.
“It was just a grind, so right now I’m feeling a little bit better than I have the last couple years, which is exciting. The arm’s feeling pretty good,” he said.
And while there’s no guarantee that his minor league deal will lead to a major league opportunity, Albers is ready for whatever comes next.
“There’s the old saying that Father Time is undefeated and it’s true, and you want to play as long as you can but at some point it’s just not gonna be an option so it’s important to enjoy it now.”
The Twins open spring training on Feb. 19.