OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — Six years after originally being offered a full athletic scholarship to play baseball at NYIT, Andrew Florides is poised to debut with the program next season.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Florides takes an uncommon route to the Bears — professional baseball, then collegiate baseball.
At the same showcase tournament during his senior year of high school during which he wowed an NYIT assistant coach, Florides also impressed Toronto Blue Jays scout Michael Pesce. And when the Major League Baseball club selected Florides in the 27th round in 2013, he signed a professional contract and passed on enrolling at NYIT.
However, after batting .097 (15-for-154) in 62 games over four injury-hampered seasons in short-season A-ball, Florides was released by the Jays. Florides then made a two-game cameo with the independent Long Island Ducks last summer.
He ultimately resolved to return to college, taking advantage of a Division II rule that allows former professional baseball players to have amateur status with some eligibility intact, provided they never signed with an agent.
Florides, now 23, will be able to play two seasons for the Bears, beginning with the spring of 2019.
"It's hard to find the NCAA rules online," Florides says. "That's why no one knows about this."
Florides knew he had the option to play college baseball upon being released by the Jays because a friend and former minor league teammate, John Silviano, previously had taken advantage of that opportunity.
Released by Toronto in July 2014 after going 4-for-26 in the Gulf Coast League that season, Silviano enrolled at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. He proceeded to hit .405 with 31 homers — second-most in Division II — and 75 RBIs for the Fighting Knights in 2016. Those gaudy statistics prompted the Miami Marlins to sign Silviano.
Now, Silviano is back in professional baseball, hitting a healthy .268 with nine homers and 30 RBIs in 190 at-bats in the high-A Florida State League with the Jupiter Hammerheads.
Florides similarly aspires to parlay a couple of successful seasons with NYIT into a return to professional baseball, where he feels he has unfinished business.
"I never had a healthy season as a Blue Jay," Florides says.
Florides has overcome obstacles before. As a junior shortstop with Holy Cross High School in Flushing, he completely fractured the humerus bone in his upper left arm in a collision with his third baseman while pursuing a flare in shallow left field. The bone, although fully snapped, did not puncture the skin, so Florides avoided surgery (see X-ray below). He did need to be home-schooled the remaining three months of that academic year, with the arm immobilized in a brace.
"I dove right into his leg," Florides says. "He was a pretty big kid. I wasn't that big at the time. He snapped my arm right in half. The one thing I thought was, 'My career's done.'"
Several months later, during the fall of his senior year, a friend asked Florides to fill in at shortstop in a showcase tournament. Nearly fully healed from the broken arm, Florides accepted and had a monster weekend. The performance caught the attention of then-NYIT assistant coach Chris Rojas, prompting the full scholarship offer. It also impressed then-Blue Jays scout Michael Pesce, resulting in the 27th-round selection in the MLB draft.
"I wasn't even on that team," Florides recalls. "They needed a player, and I was almost done with rehab. I was feeling good. So I'm like, 'OK, let me get some reps in.' I ended up going like 6-for-8 that weekend and made a couple of nice plays at shortstop. Both Mike Pesce and Chris Rojas saw me and approached me after the tournament. They were both interested. It was just from that one tournament. I was in the right place at the right time."
Said Pesce: "I stumbled upon him. I was covering that tournament in Queens, and he really jumped out. He had an athletic frame. He really could pick it at short. He was a projectable kid. He really impressed me with his raw ability."
Pesce is the uncle of NYIT left fielder Joseph Pesce, who recently completed his freshman season with the Bears.
"Small world," Florides says. "That's just a coincidence his nephew is on the team."
Florides' alma mater, Holy Cross High School, is the same program that produced former NYIT standout George Carroll. Carroll also played professionally with the Jays and is currently a minor league coach with that organization.
Of course, had NYIT not moved from Division I to Division II before this past season, Florides would not have been able to play for the program. D-II rules allow for playing collegiate baseball after limited professional exposure, not D-I.
An NCAA official said the association does not maintain statistics on the number of student-athletes with previous professional experience on their résumés playing Division II baseball, but it clearly isn't typical. Florides is required to spend a full year enrolled at the school before becoming eligible.
Florides began taking classes at NYIT during the spring semester. He is majoring in business finance.
To stay sharp, Florides is playing in the Long Island Collegiate Baseball League, which recently began its season. He homered on Thursday.
All but four of Florides' professional games came at shortstop. The Bears have a two-year incumbent at that position in rising-junior Ben McNeill. McNeill hit .321 with three homers and 20 RBIs this past season and potentially is a draft candidate next June.
Florides played three professional games at third base and is open to manning that position. He actually professes a willingness to play anywhere — even a utility role.
"Just as long as I'm in the lineup," he says.
That situation will sort itself out. NYIT just announced a new head coach on Thursday, MLB veteran and fellow ex-Jay Frank Catalanotto.
As he reflects on his professional experience, Florides notes how invaluable it was to receive instruction from the likes of Carlos Delgado, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar. His final year of pro ball, Florides was a teammate of uber-prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Their 2016 Bluefield team was a focus of a Vice documentary that chronicled life in the minors.
Florides eventually wants another shot at professional baseball.
That is, after this yet-to-be-written collegiate chapter.
"When I got released from the Blue Jays, it was a hard time in my life for a little bit. Trying to figure out what I was going to do next was very stressful," Florides says. "If I didn't think I could make it to the big leagues, then I'd be OK with moving on from the game. But I know I have what it takes."