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New Mariner Andino will help team with versatility

PEORIA, Ariz. – His abilities at multiple positions give the Mariners the freedom to use new utility player Robert Andino all over the field.

And those same skills gave Andino the freedom to finally live the life many have wished for him to have away from the ballpark. Andino, 28, grew up poor in crime-ridden South Miami Heights, longing for the types of things others take for granted.

“When you grow up with bars on your windows,” Andino said. “It’s not a place you want to be.”

Andino, traded by Baltimore to Seattle for Trayvon Robinson in November, was still living in the South Miami area in 2008 when he hit his first big-league home run with the Florida Marlins. He was celebrating postgame in the clubhouse when his wife, Renee, sent a terrifying text. A man had tried to force his way into the home where she and the couple’s two young children were.

The man left when police arrived, but the incident left Andino unnerved. Only months before, Andino’s middle-school classmate, NFL All-Pro safety Sean Taylor, had been fatally shot by robbers inside his home in the same part of Miami.

Andino, who attended Taylor’s memorial service, moved his young family to Palm Beach soon after.

“It wasn’t a good place,” Andino said of his previous neighborhood. “I’ve got kids. Anyway, that’s all in the past now. I try to look ahead and not think about it.”

Getting through high school wasn’t easy. Andino’s father, Robert Sr., worked menial jobs while his mother stayed home caring for a disabled older brother.

Between odd jobs, his father would rush over to the high school for extra on-field sessions with Andino after regular baseball practice ended.

“He kept me in line,” Andino said. “He was always pushing me to do this and do that. Play sports. Anything to stay off the streets.”

Andino led Southridge to a 34-2 record and the state championship game his senior year in 2002. The Marlins drafted him in the second round that June and he debuted with them in 2005, at age 21, touted as their “shortstop of the future.”

That changed when Hanley Ramirez was acquired in a 2006 trade with Boston. Andino bounced between the Marlins and Class AAA until Florida traded him to the Orioles after 2009 spring training.

Andino was a backup infielder for two years until his big chance in 2011, when he took over for an injured Brian Roberts in May as the team’s second baseman. He hit .263 in 511 plate appearances and became a fan favorite for his hustle, teaming for the first time with Gold Glove shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Hardy taught him not to hurry a throw to first base on a fast runner.

“The first thing you’ve got to do is catch the ball and then throw it,” he said. “If he’s safe, he’s safe. Your ability is going to dictate that. But just catch it first.”

The final two weeks of that 2011 season, Andino secured immortality in New England with three key hits – including an inside-the-park home run – that led to three losses for the Boston Red Sox and sealed their epic September collapse. Andino delivered the game-winning, walkoff single that eliminated Boston on the season’s final day, earning him the nickname “The Curse of the Andino.”

He began last season as the Orioles’ second baseman. His season was soon slowed by injury and struggles at the plate, though he partook in the Orioles’ improbable playoff run.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge believes Andino can play more than a typical backup. Andino’s versatility will also enable the Mariners to go with just one extra infielder, allowing them to carry two extra outfield bats.

Andino sees no reason why the young Mariners, with veterans added to the mix, can’t make a surprised playoff run like the Orioles.

“We all agreed it could happen here,” Andino said. “I mean, why not?”