MINNEAPOLIS — Just like every player in the Blue Jays clubhouse, Alex Andreopoulos's uniform and cap are hung with care by the side of his locker before each game.
The Toronto native is never in the starting lineup but he tackles a variety of roles that help the team's performance.
Now 51 and in his third decade with the club, the longtime bullpen catcher said this year's squad is a hard-working crew with great chemistry.
"People see what happens on the field, the finished product," Andreopoulos said. "These guys are all busting their butts behind the scenes and getting their work done.
"It's a very good, close group and it helps. It really does help."
The Blue Jays are in must-win territory in the American League wild-card series after dropping the best-of-three series opener 3-1 on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. Game 2 is set for Wednesday at Target Field and Game 3, if necessary, would be played Thursday.
Andreopoulos spent his formative years on west-end Toronto diamonds at Christie Pits and High Park. He represented Canada at the junior and men's levels and was a conference all-star at Seton Hall University.
Selected in the 17th round of the 1995 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Andreopoulos spent eight seasons in the minor leagues with four different organizations.
He was in Ottawa with the Montreal Expos organization in 2002 when he was released.
"I called over here looking for a job, figuring hey, Toronto boy, I've been in triple-A for a couple years, a little bit older now," Andreopoulos recalled. "When I called, I talked to (former assistant GM) Tim McCleary. They just happened to have fired the bullpen catcher the day I called.
"They were like, 'Do you want to finish the year doing that?'"
Andreopoulos agreed to do it for the rest of the season. He was offered the job full-time in the off-season and hasn't looked back.
"He does so much that people don't see," said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. "Between setting things up, throwing (batting practice), throwing with pitchers in the bullpen, he knows everyone in the city.
"He takes care of the guys on and off the field. He's a really instrumental part of our team that just doesn't get noticed."
Andreopoulos usually arrives at the ballpark around six or seven hours before a night game. In addition to catching and throwing duties, he rubs dozens of baseballs with mud every day.
Once the game begins, Andreopoulos watches from the bullpen with his shin guards on, staying loose in case the call for a reliever is made.
"He sees more pitches than anybody every day," said Blue Jays reliever Trevor Richards. "He's catching every single guy's bullpen (session), he catches every side (session).
"He knows what we're looking for and what we're trying to do. He's there for any help we need."
Andreopoulos also works regularly with the starting pitchers, often doing long-toss sessions two or three times a day. He also serves as a sounding board.
"You have a relationship with them, you're warming those guys up," he said. "You're doing all their bullpen (sessions). They rely on you for information and stuff. I'm honest with the guys.
"So if they don't have their best stuff that day, I'll tell them. If they do, they do."
Andreopoulos is familiar with the long grind of the baseball year. He staffs spring training, the full 162-game schedule and any playoff games.
"I love what I do," he said with a smile. "I tell people I'm lucky. I'm living a dream.
"I'm in the big leagues. Nothing beats that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press