CLEARWATER — A softball fan, armed with an array of photos, waited by a batting cage for a chance to get a coveted keepsake from Aliyah Andrews. The LSU centerfielder graciously obliged, signing a photo of herself after the Tigers’ opening game of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational on Thursday.
This kind of scene has unfolded repeatedly for the former East Lake High standout throughout her college career.
“It happens just about every game wherever we go,” Andrews said. “With the kind of team that LSU has, there is just so much support all over the country. People want autographs, pictures. It’s surreal.”
The signature most Tigers’ devotees want is Andrews’. The junior has become one of the program’s main attractions, mostly because of her ability to fly around the basepaths and to make the extraordinary catch in the outfield seem routine. Some of those plays have made it on SportsCenter.
Andrews said she gets several direct messages from young fans on her Instagram account.
“They tell me I inspire them to want to dive more,” Andrews said. “They want to be more fearless. They want to make better plays.
“That’s what its is all about about. That’s what I want to do. It’s more than softball. You have to think about the people that are out there watching you.”
Andrews was inspired by her older sister to become a role model in the sport.
A.J. Andrews, the former Countryside and LSU star, has not been in the Eddie C. Moore stands to watch Aliyah play in Clearwater this weekend. A.J. is in Los Angeles wrapping up an ESPN special called Unapologetic: The Black Female Athlete, which airs Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. on ESPN2.
The program, presented by The Undefeated, spotlights black female athletes and their struggles to become prominent figures in the sporting world. The special includes segments of a panel discussion held at Morgan State University that A.J. hosted.
For the past three years, A.J. has been perhaps the most recognizable player in softball. She was the first in the family to come up with acrobatic catches, doing it so often she appeared on ESPN SportsCenter’s top plays almost as often as major-league baseball counterparts.
That fearless fielding helped A.J. become the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove in 2016. Gold Gloves are given annually to the top major-league baseball players at each position in the American and National leagues.
In 2017, A.J. was among 23 athletes to be featured in ESPN The Magazine’s body issue. She has used her celebrity softball status to embrace social issues, especially involving African American women in sports.
In May, A.J. worked with the Players’ Tribune on a video to help females feel more empowered in athletics. She also has done clinics in New Orleans with Major League Baseball’s Youth Academy.
“The biggest thing for me is to create the same opportunities in sports for everyone,” A.J. said.
Aliyah continues to seek her sister’s advice.
“We talk all the time,” Aliyah said. “She’s been at games, and she’s come to the cages before. We’re not in the same city anymore, but I’ve been lucky to go to college and have AJ around to help me through this process.”
Aliyah already is making a name for herself with the Tigers. As a sophomore last season, she stole 42 bases, more than her older sister during any season of her career at the school.
This season, Aliyah is perfect in stolen-base attempts (5-for-5) and has scored a team-leading 14 runs.
“Aliyah has done an amazing job in such a short time there,” A.J. said. “I’m probably her biggest fan.”
This sister act also includes Athena, who starred at East Lake and is now in her freshman season at Florida A&M. Last week, Athena scored the first run of her college career. Soon after, she received a congratulatory text from A.J.
“I feel like we’re the Williams sisters of softball,” A.J. said. “Serena and Venus did wonders for African-Americans in tennis. We’re doing the same in softball. To have three sisters who are African-American all get scholarships to play softball at the Division I level is quite an accomplishments and something that other women of color can look up to.”
St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational
16-team college softball tournament; through Sunday; Eddie C. Moore Complex, 2780 Drew St., Clearwater
Saturday’s schedule: Oregon vs. Florida Atlantic, 10; LSU vs. Ohio State, 10; Texas vs. Kentucky, 10 (SEC); Hofstra vs. Oklahoma, 10 (ESPN3); Florida Atlantic vs. James Madison, 1; Ohio State vs. Utah, 1; Florida State vs. LSU, 1 (ESPN3); Oklahoma State vs. California, 1 (ESPN3); Notre Dame vs. Minnesota, 4; Hofstra University vs. Oklahoma State, 4; Kentucky vs. Oregon, 4 (ESPNU); Tennessee vs. James Madison, 4 (ESPN3); Utah vs. Tennessee, 7; California vs. Notre Dame, 7 (ESPN3); Minnesota vs. Florida State, 7:30 (ESPN3)
Sunday’s schedule: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame, 10 (ESPNU); Minnesota vs. California, 10 (ESPN3); James Madison vs. Kentucky, 1 (ESPN3); Utah vs. Hofstra University, 1 (ESPN3); Florida Atlantic vs. Florida State, 4 (ESPN3); Florida State vs. Tennessee, 7 (ESPN2)
Tickets: Tickets are sold out for Saturday. Fans are encouraged to buy tickets for Sunday in advance at stpeteclearwatereliteinvite.com
Contact Bob Putnam at email@example.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.