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Elvis honors Venezuelan roots with kids academy

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' starting shortstop did not know Emilio Andrus well, but he remembers him every time he takes the field at the start of a Major League game.

Elvis Andrus writes his father's name in the infield dirt before the first pitch is thrown.

"He was the one who first taught me to play baseball," Andrus said. "He passed away when I was 7, but I wouldn't be a baseball player without him. I don't remember too much about him, but I always have him on my mind. He's the reason I play baseball. He was a great baseball player, my brothers and I have it in our blood from our father."

Emilio Andrus was a university professor before he passed away, but also played baseball in Venezuela. But he wasn't a shortstop like his son.

"He was a first baseman," Andrus said. "He was a power guy."

His son is not known for his power. Andrus, in his fourth season as the Rangers' shortstop, is known for his speed, ability to handle the bat and exceptional defense. He is one of several outstanding shortstops produced by the South American baseball-crazy country, a list that includes Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion and Omar Vizquel.

Others may come after Andrus. They may come from the Emilio Andrus Baseball Academy, which the son opened in Venezuela shortly after he signed professionally with the Atlanta Braves.

Baseball is joining in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the tremendous impact of players from all over Latin America has been felt with every Major League team. Andrus is one of many, and he is also a player who does not forget where he came from, what it took to get here and how important it is to give back to those who are coming up behind him.

That's why he and his stepfather, Hector Gruver, opened the academy in Maracay. Gruver was also Andrus' coach after his father passed away and helped him become an outstanding professional player. Now they work to help others on the same path.

"There are a lot of young kids who have the same dream I had, and we want to help them out," Andrus said. "It's not just signing contracts with Major League teams. Every year, we send two to three kids to college at Cochise Community College in Arizona, where they can learn English, get an education, play baseball and maybe get a pro deal.

"My teammates help me out with old shoes, gloves and baseball equipment, and the organization helps me out a lot. You want to do something to give back to the community. We don't have anybody in the Majors yet, but we have a few players in the Minor Leagues."

Everybody needs a mentor, especially when you come to a new country, don't understand the culture and can't speak the language. But if you want it bad enough, you do what it takes to make your dream come true.

"It's always hard coming into a new country and a new culture," Andrus said. "That was a big adjustment ... it's not easy when you are 16 or 17 years old and you have to figure it out. You want to buy something or need something and you can't get it, because you can't speak the language.

"It's tough for anybody, but I'm getting at it. I've always loved the English language and that's motivated me. Talking to teammates and coaches about baseball helped, but listening to music really helped me. I'd download the lyrics and then listen to the music.

"I'm still learning. I'll ask Adrian Beltre or Michael Young about getting better at interviews. You have to be a better human being with your teammates if you're going to be a better player. It's all connected."

Andrus' mentor growing up was his older brother Erold, who played Minor League baseball but never reached the Majors. They did once hit home runs in the same Venezuelan Winter League playoff game for Navegantes del Magallanes against Caracas.

Andrus also grew up idolizing Vizquel, a three-time All-Star and winner of 11 Gold Gloves for defensive excellence at shortstop. He is currently with the Blue Jays but was with the Rangers in 2009 when Andrus was a rookie. It was an experience that Andrus will never forget.

"For him to be my mentor, it was an amazing experience," Andrus said. "I couldn't believe it. He was really helpful. He taught me so many things and was never in a bad mood. He never said anything bad to me. He was so cool. He said to ask him anything I wanted. I asked him a million questions.

"I was so glad to be so blessed. It was like having a book on how to play shortstop."

Others helped Andrus get to where he is today. Now he is determined to help others.

Texas Rangers, Elvis Andrus