Andrelton Simmons proves that you can certainly go home again. It’s true at least for Simmons’ second home.
Last night inside the multi-use room on the campus of Western Oklahoma State College, Andrelton Simmons was honored the best way any athlete can be honored.
Simmons is the newest member of Western’s Hall of Fame. Considering what Andrelton has done and continues to do for the college, he was the obvious selection this year to join the 21 members already in the Hall of Fame.
“When the alumni began the process for this year’s selection,” said Chad Wiginton. “This year’s choice was a quick one, a no-brainer.”
The attire was casual. The meal was baseball themed and the mood was light. One could almost hear the fans cheering. We were missing only the 7th inning stretch. It won’t always be this way for Hall of Fame inductees. However, this one deserved that kind of attention. This one is special for those of us that enjoy the cleated game. Following the meal, Wiginton took to the podium, directed our attention to a video highlight of Simmons days in a Western uniform and some of his head-scratching plays that he has made playing for the Atlanta Braves. Then, Simmons number 12 jersey in a glass framed display was officially retired. Never again will a Pioneer wear number 12. Pioneer coach, Kurt Russell, gave us tales of Simmons recruitment and what it was like to coach him during his time in Altus. Simmons spoke after Russell and lucky for us chose the one language I can understand of the five languages he is fluent in.
Through the cracks
Russell was directed to Curacao, Simmons home country, by a former Pioneer. Russell’s efforts to recruit future Pioneers in the Caribbean have paid huge dividends not only for Western but for several eventual pro-organizations.. Baseball still leads the interests of the youth in that region.
“I always ask the locals,” said Russell. “Tell me names of kids who have fallen through the cracks. I want to see the kids that some people have liked but for whatever reason, others have passed on them and they have missed their window. Lucky for us, Simmons was not a July 2nd kid. Simmons name kept coming at me. When I arrived at my hotel it was about 1 a.m. I thought well I am not here to hang out. I wanted to see if the rumors were true. I wanted to see if they actually played baseball here into the night. I got a cab and asked him to take me to baseball. It was that simple.”
When Russell arrived at the field he was asked point blank if he was there to see Simmons. He wasn’t specifically there to see Andrelton but will certainly look at someone especially after hearing his name repeatedly. Simmons was in the lineup at the game and Russell managed to get Simmons father to bring Andrelton to Russell’s hotel. They met in the lobby. Russell recalls, “I remember seeing a thin but very serious player standing in front of me. Of course, they had a bat in their car and in the parking lot, I tossed sunflower seeds and took a look at his swing.”
July 2nd Kids
International players have a very VERY small window in order to gain the attention of pro-scouts. If you haven’t turned the heads of scouts by July 2nd of your 16th year on this earth, the chance of a player getting any opportunity after that is almost non-existent. Are you confused as much as I am about this? Scouts chase these kids when they are 14 and 15. That I understand. Giving up on a kid at 16 is laughable to me. When Simmons was hitting seeds in the hotel parking lot, he was 19 and considered “washed up” to baseball establishment. Simmons had all but given up on his baseball dream and sincerely was turning to soccer in hopes of making the national team. Russell had other ideas for Simmons’ future.
A Great Fit
Altus was perfect for Simmons. It was the first time he had been away from home. There were players in Pioneer uniforms already from his area. These were kids he knew personally.
“He had the tools of the game already,” said Russell. “He needed a strength and conditioning program. That’s a big part of what we do here. I knew it would be perfect for him. He only weighed about 140 lbs. when he got here. He struggled with what we were doing at first but he never was shy about the work.”
Put it on paper
Russell shared some funny stories about Simmon’s time in a Western uniform. My favorite was the story of draft day.
When Simmon’s name scrolled across the ticker online, it read “Andrelton Simmons – Atlanta Braves – 2nd round – pitcher.” This was not a good thing. Most players would be ecstatic about being picked 2nd round from a junior college after a freshman year in which some of the season was lost to a broken foot and only four scouting directors out of the 32 MLB organizations had even seen them. This was Simmon’s reality. It’s one that is rare to say the least.
The problem was that Simmons wanted to play shortstop. Of course, his efforts in a Western uniform on the mound are tales of legend. Simmons is known to have the best arm any of us have seen. He regularly peeked the double-digits on the radar at 99 dancing just under super human triple-digit speeds. He was unhittable for the Pioneers but Simmons wanted to play shortstop.
To the Braves, it was absurd for Simmons not to be a pitcher. After some hot words from inside the Braves’ offices to Russell about a 2nd round pick not wanting to sign unless he was used at shortstop, Russell advised them to put it on paper the Braves’ intent to use Andrelton at shortstop and not to force him to pitch. It was a quick fax that followed.
The rest is still being written by Andrelton. He is on a consecutive gold glove streak and just earned his first Platinum glove. The Platinum glove is given to the best defender in baseball AT ANY POSITION.
The Braves’ rep who gave Russell those hot words called Kurt back after Simmons rookie year just to say that in 25 years of coaching shortstop superstars in the league, Andrelton is the best he has ever seen.
Statistically according to baseballreference.com Andreltion is the best shortstop to ever play the game.
Thanks Andrelton. You earned your induction. Good luck with your new team the Los Angeles Angels. We expect your next induction will be in Cooperstown.
Reach Brad Gilbert@ 482-1221 ext. 2076