Maybe John Andreoli’s football roots aren’t immediately obvious when he’s standing in center field, waiting for a ball to fly in his direction. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound outfielder has the look of a quarterback, which is what he was at Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Mass.
But as soon as Andreoli slams into a wall to make a catch, fearless, it’s clear. In the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Danny Jansen hit a ball toward Andreoli, who threw himself into the center-field wall for a flyout.
Though he’s the son of a New England Patriots defensive end and linebacker, Andreoli’s passion for baseball carried him through 7½ years in the minor leagues and put him right where he is now — on the field for the Orioles.
“One of the proudest moments I’ve had was when a coach at the Seattle Mariners said, ‘He plays with a football mentality,’ ” his father, John Andreoli Sr., said. “That doesn't mean he’s out there like a bull in the china shop, but it’s a combination of his work ethic and his focus and his preparation.”
The Orioles claimed Andreoli off waivers from the Mariners on Aug. 18 before calling up the 28-year-old on Aug. 20.
For the moment, he’s the Orioles’ center fielder while rookie Cedric Mullins works through a hip injury. Manager Buck Showalter wants to see what his new acquisition can do, and sees promise in what he’s seen so far.
“As advertised,” he said. A physical player that “can really run.”
Andreoli hit twice in Wednesday night’s 10-5 victory against the Blue Jays and crossed the plate twice, once doing so with his whole front caked in dirt.
Andreoli is a chameleon in the outfield, playing 319 games in left, 223 in center and 224 in right as a minor leaguer. In all that time, he only recorded 27 errors. In ten games between Seattle and Baltimore, though, he’s batting .226.
“I pride myself in my defense, base running,” he said. “I know I can hit, but I’ve had to make a few adjustments here with big league pitching. Hitting comes and goes, but defense always has to be there.”
It’s no wonder he’s defensively versatile considering his father, who was his football coach, encouraged his son to play three sports in high school. Andreoli lettered in football, a two-time Central Massachusetts Division I All-Star who led his team to a pair of state titles. His father recalls his son as a running quarterback, especially after he picked up track in his sophomore year and ran the 55-meter dash. In Andreoli’s senior year, his offense only threw the ball 90 times, his father said.
But Andreoli competed in multiple high-level baseball tournaments as well. Prowess in both baseball and football left Andreoli indecisive at a forked road; he was recruited by multiple Ivy League schools, service academies and New England Small College Athletic Conference institutions, per his father, to continue playing football. He was courted by Brown, among others, for baseball. His father’s alma mater, Holy Cross, wanted Andreoli for both.
But when an offer from Connecticut rolled in, Andreoli knew.
“I always loved both [sports]. I weighed my options,” Andreoli said. “I really loved the coaching staff at [UConn] and I felt that we could build something special at UConn, which we ended up doing.”
The outfielder helped lead the Huskies to a Big East regular-season title, batting .317 with 31 RBIs in 66 games in 2011. His team churned out 10 draftees that year and major league careers for the Houston Astros’ George Springer and the Boston Red Sox’s Matt Barnes, the latter whom Andreoli hopes to face when the Orioles play the Red Sox at Fenway Park in late September.
But nothing came quickly for Andreoli. He waited until the 17th round of the 2011 MLB draft to be picked. Even when the Chicago Cubs did select him, Andreoli signed with the Cape Cod League for a second season. It was then that he got the ball rolling in the minors, where he would spend the next 773 games in different systems, from Dayton to Tacoma. In 2,763 at-bats, he batted .270 with 37 home runs. He struck out 722 times.
But he stuck with it. Whereas other minor leaguers would look at seven-plus years on the farm and call it quits, that wasn’t Andreoli’s makeup. There wasn’t a sliver of DNA in him that would let him.
“I kind of went level by level my whole life,” Andreoli said. “I wanted to play Division I. Once I got that, I wanted to play in the Cape League. And then once you get to the Cape League, you get the chance to play professionally and it just keeps going from there. You always — that’s just the way my father raised me.”
Andreoli, as much as he followed his father’s teachings, wanted to carve out his own legacy. His father, along with his Patriots heritage, is a successful Massachusetts high school coach. His grandfather, Fran O’Brien, was a longtime baseball and basketball coach at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Holy Cross. His cousin, Daniel Bard, pitched out of the bullpen for the Red Sox, well-known for his 100 mph firepower.
There were, though, no guarantees for him.
“You just gotta believe in yourself,” Andreoli said. “I think the main thing is just be present in the moment. The main thing is don’t look past, or what could be in the future. Just be where your feet are. All you’re guaranteed is today.”