Reusse: Albers joins Twins for third time — if he can escape Saskatchewan

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune
·4 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Nearly all information from Orlando at the start of Twins spring training in the 1960s came from three beat writers: Tom Briere for the Minneapolis Tribune, Max Nichols for the Minneapolis Star and Arno Goethel for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch.

Twins followers came to expect the following note in four newspapers starting in 1965: "Utility player Cesar Tovar missed the first day of workouts due to visa problems."

It took a while for us naive Minnesotans to realize Cesar's late arrivals had more to do with winter competition in Venezuela than travel arrangements. Cesar figured those 250-plus at-bats he had for Leones del Caracas every winter would make up for missing a week of BP at Tinker Field.

Caribbean talent has become baseball's lifeblood in recent decades, and teams have specialists to keep the paperwork in order and reduce "visa problems." And now the pandemic has created one of those from a new location:

Saskatchewan.

Andrew Albers, a lefthanded mini-legend for an August week in 2013, has been signed by the Twins for the third time and is among a massive number of 32 invitees to big-league camp.

Reporting day for pitchers and catchers in Fort Myers is Thursday, and as of Wednesday, Albers was 2,600 miles to the northwest in Saskatoon.

"Normally, I'd be home in North Battleford, but I'm here, so I can get to the airport when the visa shows up," Albers said. "You can only fly out of the country from four airports right now.

"So, my flight is Saskatoon to Calgary to the Twin Cities to Fort Myers, and I keep changing it as I'm waiting for the visa."

Albers didn't have a minor league deal with the Twins until a dozen days ago, so there was no basis to file for a work visa in the U.S.

"I wouldn't say I was a hot commodity in a slow free-agent market," Albers said. "Seattle finally offered me a minor league contract, and then so did the Twins. I felt like the Twins organization might be a better fit at this point."

This could be the fit: Even though it might be infrequent when the Twins and the Saints are sharing homestands, those players stationed at CHS Field have a chance to feel more connected to a big-league club than any Class AAA team in organized baseball history.

Grab your equipment bag and get on the Green Line. A veteran lefty starts and goes six innings, walks none, strikes out three, throws 71 pitches, and he can see the big leagues from there.

Although it's a bit more difficult right now to see that, from Saskatchewan.

"I've always spent the offseason home in North Battleford," Albers said. "I was a sub teacher for eight years. I usually drove to spring training. Thirty-eight hours from home to Fort Myers."

The most interesting drive came in 2011, when Albers was the owner of a well-used 2004 Buick LeSabre. He had been in independent baseball and went to Arizona in February for workouts. On March 10, he was signed by the Twins and drove the LeSabre to Fort Myers.

Albers had climbed to the starting rotation in Class AAA Rochester in 2013. He was 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA at the end of July.

That was a Twins team so abysmal on the mound that Vance "The Vanimal" Worley was the Opening Day starter.

The Twins finally went to the then-27-year-old Albers, with his 86-miles-per-hour fastball, a curve as slow as 65 mph, a cutter and a spotty changeup. And this happened:

• Aug. 6 at Kansas City: Twins 7, Royals 0. Albers' pitching line: 8⅓ innings, four hits, one walk, two strikeouts, 109 pitches. Time of game: 2:33.

• Aug. 12 at Target Field: Twins 3, Cleveland 0. Albers' pitching line: nine innings, two hits, no walks, two strikeouts, 102 pitches. Time of game: 2:21.

Albers followed his sterling beginning with only two strong starts in his last eight. He was released by the Twins in 2014.

He pitched in Korea that season, pitched in one game for his home country Blue Jays in 2015, popped back up with the Twins for six games in 2016, was 5-1 in nine games for Seattle in 2017, and spent the past three seasons with the Orix Buffaloes in Osaka, Japan.

"They still play some small ball there and striking out is bad," Albers said. "Don't take strike three in Japan. They get after you."

Albers, now 35, remains the Twins' record holder with those 17⅓ scoreless innings in his first two career starts. He expects to retain that distinction.

"Where the game has gone — strikeouts, full counts, don't face the order for a third time," he said. "… I don't think you're going to see a pitcher have a chance to get eight-plus [innings] in his first two starts.

"Especially with two strikeouts in each game. That's not going to happen again."

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.