The raucous crowds at Texas A&M baseball games are known for getting on opposing pitchers, and not letting them up. Aggies fans will scour social media for heckling fodder, and count consecutive balls thrown with loud chants.
That’s what the Long Beach State Dirtbags had to deal with last weekend when they visited the No. 8-ranked Aggies, and junior transfer Clayton Andrews was the first pitcher to deal with the Texas A&M crowd as Friday night’s starter.
Andrews’s father, Vaughn, was at home in California watching the game on his computer. When he heard the home crowd heckling his son, he laughed and turned to his wife, Marie.
“They think they’re rattling him,” he said. “But he doesn’t even hear them.”
He was right. The 5’6” 160-pound Andrews went on to pitch seven strong innings against Texas A&M and strike out a career-high 10 batters in a 3-1 loss.
Vaughn’s confidence in his son’s focus comes from years of him performing under pressure at home, and on the field. Clayton and his twin brother, Myles, fueled each other’s competitive fire throughout their childhoods.
“They couldn’t go out into the back yard to play basketball without a fight,” Vaughn said. “And I never let them win anything. Clayton is just a competitor.”
That competitive spirit has made Andrews a perfect fit with the Dirtbags, and he’s not just anchoring an ailing pitching staff. Andrews is also the everyday starting center fielder for LBSU coach Troy Buckley.
“He’s an exciting, really good baseball player,” Buckley said. “He can run, he can bunt, he can drive the ball and he can hit 90 MPH on the mound.”
“You just don’t see a lot of players like him,” LBSU second baseman Jarren Duran said.
Andrews is the first Dirtbag to be a regular starter in the lineup and weekend starter on the mound since Jason Vargas in 2004. Andrews will start in center field on Friday and Saturday when LBSU hosts Tulane in a three-game nonconference series, and he is scheduled to be the starting pitcher at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“If you watch him play, you can see he really likes being out there,” Buckley said.
Andrews grew up playing baseball and basketball in Rohnert Park in Northern California, but he said he always knew baseball had a role to play in his future. Although, his path to becoming a Dirtbags wasn’t a direct one.
“The road wasn’t what I dreamed it would be,” Andrews said. “The junior college route was definitely an audible that I wasn’t expecting.”
Andrews was a four-year letter winner at Maria Carrillo High were he hit .396 as a senior with 25 runs and 22 RBIs in 26 games. The left-handed pitcher also posted a 0.58 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 48.2 innings, but the stigma of his size and academic struggles led Andrews to Cabrillo College, where he was named Coast Pacific Conference Player of the Year. Andrews hit .410 as a freshman, and struck out 37 batters in 19 innings.
“I use it all as motivation, and as an undersized guy I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder to prove I can play,” Andrews said. “It turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened because I’m here.”
After a stellar performance in the California Collegiate Baseball League in 2016, Andrews was drafted in the 40th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he decided to attend LBSU to develop his game physically.
“I remember taking Clayton and Myles to a baseball camp at Blair Field when they were 12 or 13 years old,” Vaughn said. “Clayton said that day he wanted to go to (LBSU) and here we are.”
Andrews said one of the reasons he chose LBSU was the coaching staff’s ability to balance his schedule in order to play both positions in the outfield and on the mound.
“I’m a center fielder who can pitch pretty well, but I roll with whatever the coaches have for me,” Andrews said. “I love playing both positions. Sometimes I have to show up a little bit early to go though my throwing routines, but the coaches do a good job planning my day to make sure I don’t fall behind.”
Because of injuries, Andrews went from featured relief pitcher to weekend starter before the season started. He has a 2.52 ERA in four starts with 25 strikeouts in 25 innings. Andrews also has 12 hits and four stolen bases in 16 starts around the top of the lineup.
“No matter what position I’m playing that day I’m not the type of guy to just listen to my headphones before a game,” Andrews said. “I like enjoying my teammates and having fun.”
The Dirtbags (5-11) have struggled with injuries and a challenging nonconference schedule this season, but Andrews said he is staying calm and confident.
“We’re not panicking,” Andrews said. “We’re figuring a lot of stuff out right now and when conference comes along we’ll be good to go.”