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Hey! Mike Couzens checking in with you here in the midst of the International League All-Star break. While we’re technically away from baseball for three days, I’ve gone on vacation only to run into…more baseball. I’m spending my time off on beautiful Cape Cod and while I’ve been here, I ran across a story that I couldn’t pass up. I was talking to an old friend of mine and when I told him about the Chiefs, the name Justin Maxwell immediately came into his mind. My friend remembered that he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2003, and was a pretty good player back then too. Here’s the story of how Justin Maxwell made a anme for himself before he was a Chief:
Anybody worth their weight in sea salt can tell you that the
state of Maryland has some of the best soft-shell crabs the east coast has to offer. One
thing that became very clear in the summer of 2003 was that Marylanders don’t
do lobsters, quahogs, or clams. Why’s that? Justin Maxwell made it obvious.
Maxwell, then a 19 year-old outfielder from the University
of Maryland, was another name among hundreds in the prestigious Cape Cod
Baseball League. It’s the nation’s top summer wooden bat league in Cape Cod,
Massachusetts. Maxwell was a member of the Bourne Braves and was trying to make
a name for himself in front of professional scouts alongside the best
collegiate players in the nation.
Bourne is a small town nestled into the northwest corner of
Cape Cod and has a strong fan base for baseball. Current New Jersey Devils
President Lou Lamoriello played on a championship team in Bourne back in 1965.
The baseball might be different now then it was back then, but one constant in
the CCBL is families hosting players. The ballplayers are coming from all over
the country to play for the summer, and families give them a place to stay and
food to eat.
Maxwell lived with then Braves General Manager Sean Walsh,
and one day Maxwell was invited over another family’s house for food, lots of
“I invited him, his parents were over and we had a Cape Cod
clambake–lobsters, clams, quahogs, sausage, onions and stuffing. He didn’t know
what he was getting into when he sat down to the table at that one. His parents
knew less. But they really enjoyed it and they’re great people,” said Stanley
“Froggy” Eldridge, the father-in-law of current General Manager Mike Carrier.
Carrier remembers that Maxwell wasn’t quite sure how to dig
in to a lobster or how to eat a clam.
“You would think with the crabs and everything (from
Maryland). But you know, we have some unique seafood up here that you don’t get
down there. But how many of us know what soft shell crabs are up here?” Carrier
That was Justin Maxwell off the field. On the field, he
almost didn’t even garner a roster spot.
Each year the league holds the Frank Finn tryout at
Wareham’s Spillane Field. It’s a diamond that doubles as a football field and
uses stonedust on the infield rather than dirt. It’s a striking image at first
to see gray covering the basepaths rather than the normal parched brown of the
Players usually from smaller schools are invited to the
tryout and will come from places like the University of Maine or Delaware to
compete with players from the big name schools like Texas, Southern Miss, and
Auburn who already have guaranteed contracts for the season. Out of the nearly
eighty players that try out, maybe ten will be lucky to make a roster. In 2003,
Maxwell was one of those ten.
“At the Wareham tryout that he was the top athlete of that
whole group of about 80 players. You could see that he was an excellent
ballplayer and it was pretty amazing that he hadn’t been signed by one of the
Cape League ball clubs by then,” said Carrier.
Carrier wasn’t the only one watching. Representatives from
every team, whether it be a general manager or field manager, will be on hand
to look at potential players. Cooper Farris, who has managed the Wareham
Gatemen since 2001, was at the tryout at his home field and has vivid memories
of a 19 year-old with a hulking frame and a lethal weapon for an arm.
“I probably messed up because I had some Maryland guys (who
had played for me). I didn’t know the name coming out (of the tryout) and the
big thing is, a lot of the guys go on the scene–we’ve got two guys on our team
hitting .300 that we got from the tryout. There’s a lot of guys out there and
he’s one of them but he’s a special one,” said Farris.
Maxwell was scooped up by Bourne and in a 44 game season, he
played in 43 of them. Maxwell hit .307 with two home runs and 47 hits in just
153 at bats.
Photo courtesy of SportsPix
He helped his Braves team to a 23-19 record and a first
place finish in the Western Division. A record of four games over .500 may not
sound like much, but in a league where even some of the best teams hover around
.500, it’s a feat to remember.
The record isn’t the only thing people remember.
“I remember Justin was a big kid and he was a strong kid and
he could hit the ball a long way. I remember watching him at Coady Field, which
was our field before Doran Park, and he was a great player. I’m not surprised
at all that he’s at the level he’s at. He was a great hitter and was great in
the outfield,” said Bob Kruse, the Vice President of Operation for the Braves.
Farris says Maxwell had one of the best arms of a
centerfielder he has ever seen in a decade of coaching the best the country has
Maxwell was the starting leftfielder in the All-Star game
for the Western Division that year and also picked up an award once bestowed
upon Nomar Garciaparra in 1993.
He was given the Manny Robello 10th player award
for his stellar season.
Photo courtesy of SportsPix
“He was pretty well stunned over that. He was shocked that he
won it because there were other players that were as good as he. He was
outstanding. He shined,” said Eldridge.
Looking back, it shouldn’t have been all too surprising to
anyone. Maxwell was drafted in the fourth round of the 2005 Major League
Baseball draft and began to play professionally in 2006.
By 2007, he was already in a Washington Nationals uniform.
“You could definitely see that he had the potential to get a
lot better and obviously he has. He’s been very successful between Triple-A and
the Major Leagues. It’s a nice feeling to see our former players succeed (in
the Majors) like that,” said Carrier.
At Triple-A Syracuse this year, Maxwell was hitting .296,
with 6 HR and 18 RBI before his most recent call up–the third this season.
With the Nationals in 2010, Maxwell is just 4-38 (.105) with
1 HR and 3 RBI.
The quest still lives within Maxwell to be an everyday
outfielder for the Washington Nationals. That remains constant and so does the
desire of fans, whether they be in Bourne, Massachusetts, Syracuse, New York or
his hometown of Olney, Maryland, to see him succeed at every level.
Whether it was Cooper Farris, vividly recalling images of
Maxwell, after his team had just won a 12 inning marathon ending at 11 p.n.
last Monday, or Mike Carrier jogging his brain for the Terps star who couldn’t
crack a lobster claw, or Stanley “Froggy” Eldridge just showing up to an early
July game with a folding chair to see the next Justin Maxwell play–the
sentiment is the same.
“He’s a great kid. He was a good defensive centerfielder,
could hit good and I just wish him the best,” said Eldridge.
EXTRA: Watch video of Farris and Carrier talk about Maxwell
I hope you’re enjoying the All-Star Break. If you get the MLB Network, you can watch Chase Lambin on July 14th as he represents the Chiefs as the International League takes on the Pacific Coast League in Allentown, PA.
Please do get in touch to share any thoughts, questions, concerns or comments. I would love to hear from you. The email address is email@example.com and on Twitter we are @ChiefsRadio.