SPORTS

Canadian pitcher Albers looks to catch on with Jays after year in Korea

03/09/2015 10:44 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT
DUNEDIN, Fla. - After a season in South Korea, Canadian pitcher Andrew Albers is back on more familiar turf.

The 29-year-old left-hander from North Battleford, Sask., who made headlines in 2013 with the Minnesota Twins, is hoping to start a new chapter with the Blue Jays.

Albers threw one inning of scoreless relief last Wednesday against the Pirates, with one strikeout and one walk. He gave up three singles in 2/3 innings in another outing Sunday against Pittsburgh but escaped without a run thanks to a helping hand from pitcher Bo Schultz.

"He's got a great feel for pitching," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Albers. "He's not an overpowering guy by any means ... He's a lot like (Jeff) Francis. They're both command guys that are very very polished. I mean, they're pitchers. They're not just chucking that thing up there. They've got an idea what they're doing. Both those guys live at the knees."

Albers is coming off an interesting, sometimes challenging Korean season with the Hanwha Eagles.

"We struggled as a team, I struggled as an individual over there so that part of it wasn't real good," he said. "But as far as the life experience went, I'm really glad I did it."

Albers went 6-13 with a 5.89 earned-run average in 28 games as the Eagles finished last in the nine-team league with a 49-77-2 record.

He says he was a little nicked up early in the season and then paid the price for letting the team change his mechanics, something he soon regretted.

It took about half the season to figure things out. "My second half was a lot better than my first half."

Albers, who hung out with the two other (American and Dominican) imports on the team, says the experience gave him a new appreciation of what Latin American and Asian players go though here.

He was alone for most of his time, although his family and girlfriend visited.

"It was a lot harder than I thought it would be ... Nothing was ever easy," he said.

He marvelled at the crowded Korean cities, where parking lots are typically built atop buildings.

His home base of Daejon was very safe with only the military allowed to have guns, he said. Most of the cities where he played had some sort of English district, which helped when it came to eating.

Ordering Korean food was an adventure. "You'd basically point and hope it comes out all right."

He had a translator, whom he would text to get instructions in Korean to give a taxi driver his destination, for example.

The game experience was also unique, thanks to "extremely energetic" fans,

Major leaguers here have their own walkup music when they come to bat. In South Korea, the fans actually sing them, with matching actions often orchestrated by cheerleaders.

"The fans are very encouraging, very positive. You never hear boos or anything like that," he said.

The pitchers don't get serenaded, other than perhaps a strikeout chant if they get to two strikes.

Albers says his experiences abroad have reminded him not to take things for granted and how fortunate he is to play baseball.

The Canadian has had his share of career ups and downs.

"Baseball's got a funny way of humbling you when you think things are going well," Albers said.

Drafted and then released by the Padres, he survived Tommy John surgery and pitching for the Quebec Capitales of the independent Can-Am Association

He earned a tryout in Fort Myers with Minnesota after driving from Arizona to Florida in search of baseball employment.

The University of Kentucky graduate made his mark in 2013, pitching 8 1/2 scoreless innings in his Twins debut. Next time out, he threw a complete game shutout.

Albers, the eighth Saskatchewan native to play in the majors, finished the season with a 2-5 mark and 4.05 ERA in 10 starts.

"It wasn't great but it wasn't terrible," he said somewhat modestly.

Albers is proud to still call Saskatchewan home and grateful for his province's support.

He has worked as a substitute teacher at John Paul II Collegiate, his alma mater in North Battleford, when not pitching.

"Certainly in the minors, it was a necessity," he said. "Now maybe not quite so much but it would still be something that I'd like to go back and do."

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