Batting practice has become an event at Bay Shore High School since Jaison Andujar, son of former Astros, Cardinals and A’s pitcher Joaquin Andujar, joined the team on April 10.
The slugging outfielder is back on Long Island after spending four years in the Dominican Republic, living first with his father and then sometimes alone after Joaquin Andujar’s death.
The story behind the 19-year-old’s odyssey has many layers, but the turning point came on Sept. 8, 2015, the day his father died of complications from diabetes at 62.
“He was my hero,” Jaison said. “I was so depressed.”
Jaison had moved from his mother’s home in Bay Shore to the Dominican town of Cabrera in June 2015. “The plan was to be with him and train for baseball while I go to high school and graduate,” he said. “I had to graduate because it’s what my father wanted because he knew how hard it was to make it as a professional player.”
Andujar was born in Santo Domingo and spent his first 12 years there. His mother, Noris Garcia, and father never married and separated when the boy was 3.
Garcia and Jaison arrived in Brentwood in 2012. He played two years of baseball in middle school before moving to Bay Shore for ninth grade in 2014.
“I was looking for an opportunity for work, a better life for us when we came to Long Island,” said Garcia, who now operates a housecleaning service.
But Jaison had baseball in his blood and missed his father and homeland, which led to his move back to the Caribbean island.
“At first, I wasn’t happy about Jaison going to live with his dad because I would miss him. But it was what he really wanted,” Garcia said. “And the Dominican is great for learning and playing baseball.”
FATHER’S INFLUENCE, DEATH
Joaquin Andujar compiled a 127-118 record in the major leagues from 1976-88. He was a four-time All-Star who pitched in two World Series and led the National League with 20 victories for St. Louis in 1984. He won 21 the following season.
After baseball, he started a trucking business in the Dominican Republic. In 2012, he was inducted into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame.
As the years went on, diabetes began taking a toll on him.
“My father was so popular in Dominican,” Jaison said, “but he’d become so skinny and weak. It was hard to see this once-strong man, a major league ballplayer whom everyone loved, suffer the way he did. He looked so old at the end when he was in and out of the hospital. It was very painful to me. He was always there for me. And now he was gone.”
Devastated, Jaison found himself facing things no 15-year-old should have to deal with. “We buried my father in San Pedro and I was so depressed . . . and thought about walking away from baseball,” he said.
Jaison had a series of guardians but sometimes had to fend for himself while living in school dormitories in the town of Cabrera.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he said. “I was all by myself. He was my only family there. My mom was still on Long Island and I didn’t want to go back.”
But emotions took their toll on Andujar. He called his mother in April 2018 and asked to come back to Long Island.
His mom reacted with relief.
“I was happy he was coming back to me,” said Garcia, who went back to fetch her son. He enrolled as a senior at Bay Shore High School in September.
PERMISSION TO PLAY
The process of being certified to play baseball at Bay Shore was a battle for Jaison, who turned 19 on Feb. 15 and already had exhausted his eligibility to play high school baseball, which includes his three years in the Dominican. He was ruled ineligible by Section XI, Suffolk’s governing body for interscholastic athletics, and New York State’s High Schools Athletic Association.
Appeals by Bob Panariello, the director of athletics for the Bay Shore Union Free School District, went before MaryEllen Elia, the state commissioner of education, who approved an exemption allowing him to play on April 9.
Andujar made his season debut the next day and was hitting .340 with an on-base percentage of .532 and 13 walks in 10 games through Wednesday.
Before most games, the 6-2, 195-pound lefthanded hitter puts on a show for spectators and scouts, blasting rocket after rocket, some traveling an estimated 440 feet.
“Oh, he’ll be drafted. It’s just a matter of what round and how much money he’ll be offered,” said Bay Shore coach Mike Herbst, looking ahead to the MLB free-agent draft in June. “He’s a special kind of all-around player — a five-tool phenom with a fantastic personality, infectious attitude, who just loves the game.”
Opposing coaches also are paying close attention. Andujar was intentionally walked six times through 10 games.
“You can’t make a mistake because he’ll make you pay,” said Sachem North coach Tommy Gambino, whose staff allowed two homers to Andujar in a three-game series. “We had him 0-2 and elevated a curveball and he homered. He definitely has a presence when he gets in the box — no doubt.”
GREAT STUDENT, TEAMMATE
Andujar has emerged as a leader on and off the field.
“He’s a model student,” Panariello said. “He’s been outstanding in all of his classes. He takes nine classes with no lunch and has a GPA of 88. He’s been a pleasure and we’re happy he’s back.”
Teammates are glad to have him around, too.
“He’s a huge part of our team and makes our lineup so much better,” senior shortstop Tommy Secaira said. “Teams pitch around him. He’s a team leader, very vocal and with a great attitude. Nothing gets him down. He’s very mature and we love him.”
For now, all is right in Andujar’s world — especially when he’s playing the game his father loved so much. But there is sadness, too.
“I think about him all the time,” Andujar said of his dad. “Think about it, three years ago I was lost. Now I’ve got a second chance and I can make him proud.”