Former University of Kentucky pitcher Andrew Albers completed his remarkable comeback from Tommy John surgery with a victory for Canada against the United States in the gold-medal contest in the Pan American Games this past Tuesday.
Albers, who gave up one run, struck out eight and walked none in 62⁄3 innings in Canada's 2-1 win, was sidelined by the injury in 2009. He pitched in an independent league in 2010 before making his way back to the minor leagues with the Minnesota Twins this past season.
"It was kind of weird thinking about that," the native of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, told The Vancouver Sun. "A year ago, I was playing independent ball. Two years ago, I wasn't playing baseball at all. I think it helped me relax a little bit; it puts things in perspective. You know it's another game, and the worst thing that can happen is you lose and you get a silver medal. In all reality, that's not too bad at all. It helped me calm down."
Albers, who pitched for the Wildcats from 2005 to 2008, was 8-2 with four saves and a 2.16 ERA at the High-A and Double-A levels for the Twins. But it was a long trip just to get back to the minors.
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"I've been on the other side, out of a job in the baseball world, and getting a second opportunity really makes you thankful for it," Albers told The Vancouver Sun. "You know what it's like not to be playing, and it makes you appreciate it more."
Albers was drafted by San Diego in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball Draft in 2008. He suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during spring training in 2009.
The Padres ended up releasing Albers during spring training in 2010, and he went on to pitch for a season for the Quebec Capitales of the independent Can-Am League.
This past off-season, after tryouts with the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies didn't work out, he volunteered to drive nearly 40 hours from Phoenix to Fort Myers, Fla., to pitch for the Twins' scouts and afterward his comeback started at High-A Fort Myers and then at Double-A New Britain.
"I can't say that thought (of being finished) didn't go through my head a few times," Albers said. "There's definitely times, going through rehab, when things aren't going well and you're like 'man, is this really worth it?' But I didn't want to look back in 10 years and say 'could I have done this? Was there anything else I could have done to get another shot?' That was a big thing for me; I didn't want to look back in 10 years and have regrets. If it wouldn't have worked out this way, at least I tried. I did what I could."
Albers hopes his persistence pays off with an eventual promotion to the majors.
"It'll take a couple more breaks, and you've got to have a little more luck and put in a couple of good seasons," Albers, 26, said. "It's certainly within grasp, but it's a long shot. ... But hopefully I'm on that track at least, and right now, that's all I can ask for."