By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
Just three years after playing baseball for the first time, Andre Rodgers was putting on the road gray uniform of the New York Giants in the visitor’s clubhouse of Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field for the 1957 season opener.
Rodgers, born in Nassau, Bahamas, hadn’t grown up playing baseball, but another ball-and-bat sport common across the British Commonwealth, especially the Caribbean: cricket.
Starting at shortstop for the Giants, the lanky 23-year-old had taken a unique journey to the Major Leagues that began with a letter sent to the Giants asking for a tryout. With no scout in the Bahamas – then a nation with little baseball to speak of – the Giants told Rodgers to come to Melbourne, Fla., to workout for the club, and if they signed him, they’d cover his travel.
Sign him they did, and he began a rapid rise through the minors, starting in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League with Olean in 1954, batting .286/.413/.418 in 125 games, while posting 126 hits and 94 walks.
The next year, Rodgers was off to St. Cloud, Minn., in the Class C Northern League, where he torched opposing pitching, slashing .387/.480/.666 with 28 ding dong Johnsons and 111 RBI in 123 games. He earned himself a spot in Class AA the next season, where his steady if not spectacular bat helped the Dallas Eagles to a 94-60 record, the second-best in the Texas League.
By the time spring training rolled around in 1957, Rodgers was well-known around baseball.
“I have seen two rookies have outstanding training seasons. They were Bill Virdon and Jackie Brandt. This fellow Rodgers impresses me more than either of them,” Giants infielder Red Schoendienst said in an article in the Sporting News’ March 27, 1957 edition.
Hall of Fame outfielder George Kell, then with the Orioles, said in the same Sporting News piece, “Did you fellows know he had such power? We all had heard about him, but there wasn’t any idea he could pole the ball that hard.”
The Giants looked for Rodgers to bat in front of Willie Mays, with manager Bill Rigney telling the Sporting News, “If Rodgers bats third, they will have to try to get him out and not waste pitches on him and get him out, because nobody likes to see men on base with Willie coming up.”
Because of Rodgers, the Bahamas was no longer a place that Major League scouts ignored.
“The first tryout camp in the history of the Bahamas was conducted at Nassau by scouts Rex Bowen and Howie Haak of the Pirates, March 16-17, in conjunction with the Bahamas Amateur Baseball Association,” a notebook item in the March 27, 1957 edition of the Sporting News reported. “Interest in the island as a possible source of talent has been heightened as a result of the fine showing by Andre Rodgers, a local product now with the Giants.”
Less than a month after those Pirates scouts held a tryout in Nassau, Rodgers was putting on a No. 15 Giants jersey at Forbes Field for the first of 854 games he’d play in the major leagues over 11 seasons with the New York and San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, and Pittsburgh Pirates. Although he only played over 100 games in three seasons, Rodgers was a consistent player, batting .249/.328/.365 with 45 home runs while primarily playing shortstop and serving as a utility infielder later in his career.
Sixteen years after the original Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium closed, Andre Rodgers’ daughter Gina gave a speech prior to the opening game of the 2022 Caribbean Cup, the first event held at the new Andre Rodgers Baseball Stadium. And with the new stadium, hopefully, will bring more big events to the Bahamian capital.
“I’d like to see more tournaments,” said Bahamas Baseball Federation Samuel Rodgers. “The prime minister is a sports-minded person. Along with the minister of sport, they are all elated that this stadium is finished and we have it to play baseball in”
Sixty-five years after he first put on the black and orange in a Forbes Field clubhouse, Andre Rodgers, forever a New York Giant, remains the giant of baseball in the Bahamas.