Since it’s inception in 1998, the Atlantic League of Pro Baseball (ALPB) has — among other things — served as a fortuitous home for players with MLB aspirations. The ALPB is a professional, independent baseball league, allowing players to show off their talents to the highest level without being tied to a MLB team’s farm team. The ALPB’s eight teams contain rosters intriguing to analyze, with players young, old, knowledgable, and novices. And yet each player has an equal opportunity for success.
One example of the league’s diversity in players can be seen with the Somerset Patriots, one of two teams currently in the ALPB that have lasted since it’s creation. With the Patriots, a ten-year age discrepancy exists between the oldest and youngest athletes (Ahron Eggleston, who turns 34 in July, and Scott Kelly, who turned 24 in May). Even more, Somerset’s players reside all around the nation: Glendale, AZ and Las Vegas, NV to Freehold, NJ and Suffern, NY. Furthermore, on Somerset, a total of eight players have reached the MLB in the past; nine have competed at AAA as their highest level; three call AA their ceiling; one claims A; and four have only known independent baseball. The Patriots are just one example of how varied the ALPB truly is.
More specifically, meet 31-year-old infielder Robert Andino. He is one of the Somerset Patriots’ newest additions, recruited by two Patriots at the start of the 2015 season. He joins the team, however, with around nine years of pro experience. Andino played all of last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ AAA team and has spent time with the Florida Marlins, Baltimore Orioles, and Seattle Mariners in the past. Drafted by the Marlins out of high school in 2002 (52nd overall, second round), Andino has performed in the majors on several occasions, including in the postseason with the Orioles in 2011 and 2012.
Now, though, he is in New Jersey as a Patriot — a transition he did not find too difficult.
“It’s the same baseball,” Andino said. “The ball is round, bases are 90 feet apart. Still have to hit strikes. It’s the same baseball.”
On the field, Andino struggled to start the season, posting a .132 batting average for the first month. (To compare, he batted .232 during his MLB career.) His statistics have gradually improved as the season has continued, with a .209 batting average as of June 20th. On the opposite end, Andino has been described as a “defensive whiz,” according to Patriots’ beat reporter Mike Ashmore. “[He] has given organizations a lot of value in the field.”
Andino’s impact on the team also could include his presence in the locker room. On a team as ranging in age as the Patriots, being a player like Andino with years of professional experience would conceivably lead to a leadership role. As the longest-tenured ex-MLBer on the team, does that make Andino an automatic leader?
“I don’t like to see myself [as a leader],” he said. “I see myself just like everybody else. I’m just out here trying to have fun and play the game.”
And yet, no matter his role on the Patriots or his experience level, Andino is just like the other 24 players on the roster: someone looking to break through in Major League Baseball; to make a living playing at the highest level in a sport they love.
“Over here, you play the game the right way; you have fun,” Andino said. “In the big leagues, you’re always worried about being good or you’ll be sent down. Over here, you just go out here and have fun.”