Maybin excels with Braves, his childhood dream team
Center fielder frequently visited Turner Field while growing up in North Carolina
There was Cameron Maybin, sitting with a visitor the other day and discussing an age-old truth involving stability in Major League Baseball: Even beyond the non-waiver Trade Deadline of July 31, anything can happen to a player down the stretch of a regular season. He could be dressing inside one home clubhouse this afternoon and another by late evening.
So who knows where Maybin will be in November or even August? He has an attractive glove and bat as a center fielder on the rise at 28. Plus, when it comes to those in search of such players, his contract ($8 million next season and a club option for $9 million for 2017) is friendlier than most.
What Maybin knows for sure is that he was kissed by the baseball gods in early April. Courtesy of a multiplayer trade by the Padres, he found himself wearing a Braves uniform -- he is now close to family, after spending his eight previous years in the Majors a long way from his hometown of Asheville, N.C.
"Yeah, I grew up an easy drive from Atlanta, so I've always been quite familiar with the city, especially since I have family there, and I had a chance to come to Turner Field all the time when I was a young kid," said Maybin, who joined the Braves after four years with the Padres.
Before that, he was with the Marlins for three seasons, and he started with the Tigers in 2007. Two years earlier, the Tigers made Maybin the 10th pick of the 2005 Draft as one of the nation's top prospects after his high school days.
Nothing against the Tigers, or even the Marlins and the Padres, but Maybin always dreamed of playing for his favorite team when he was younger. Let's just say he was always into chopping and chanting. In fact, he was born four years after the Braves began their record streak of 14 division titles with a roster that included Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Bobby Cox.
"Probably, out of all of them, Otis Nixon was my favorite," said Maybin, referring to an earlier version of himself in center for the Braves.
Even though Maybin was 5 years old at the time, he remembers that July game in 1992 when Nixon somehow leaped high against the wall at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to steal a home run away from the Pirates' Andy Van Slyke.
Well, Maybin remembers with a little help.
"Highlights. You still can catch that play on [highlight videos], because I've seen them play it over and over again," Maybin said. "It was to right-center. I mean, Otis Nixon was one of the more fun guys to watch. When he was on the baseball field, you felt like something exciting was going to happen. He was that kind of player, and that's the kind of player that I try to be."
No problem there. Maybin has been the most valuable player for a youth-heavy Braves team in transition. In addition to his solid defense, he has unleashed his best offensive season ever. Maybin is hitting .278 (which is 27 points above his career average) with a career-high 47 RBIs. His eight home runs are one shy of matching his personal mark of nine, which he managed in 2011 with the Padres. He is also swift on the bases, with 17 steals in 21 attempts.
All of that for someone who began the season platooning in center with Eric Young Jr., while hitting .175 for the month of April.
Maybin's slump was deceptive.
"Some people may say I had a slow start, but I would say it mostly involved bad luck," Maybin said. "During the course of those games, I had a lot of hard outs and a lot of great at-bats. There were quality at-bats in there. So, for me, I just kept doing some of the same things I was doing back then, and when you put together consistent at-bats, positive things begin to happen."
Yes, indeed, but here's another reason for Maybin's prowess this year: For one of the few times in his career, he isn't hampered by significant aches or pains. His troublesome right wrist is fine, and so are the left Achilles tendon issues he has encountered.
There was also Maybin's right knee surgery two years ago.
"There also was the bicep [problem], and a few other things, but it's now all in the past, which is good," Maybin said. "Having your health is always a big part of having success over the course of a season of six or seven months. And health really becomes a huge part for somebody who plays a premium position such as center field, where you have to be active a lot. So this is the first time in two years that I've been healthy, and, hopefully, I can keep that health going. When I'm healthy, it gives me a chance every day to do something positive. "
Just like his Braves heroes of old. Although, Maybin wasn't just a disciple of Nixon as a youth.
"Fred McGriff was one of my favorites," Maybin said. "Brian Jordan also was one of my favorites, and we'd come up to see Chipper Jones, guys like that. And there was Andruw Jones, who wore No. 25, just like I do now. I didn't have many options of what numbers to wear when I came over to the Braves in that trade, but I thought No. 25 would be a good one after growing up watching Andruw Jones."
Actually, No. 25 was the definitive choice for Maybin, especially since Jones also mastered center field.
Not that Maybin is trying to become Jones, Nixon or anybody else.
Maybin just wants to be the best version of himself, which is why he said, "My thing is showing up, being professional, never being satisfied or content, always being a student of the game and trying to find a way to improve. I've never felt like I've ever tapped into my full potential at the big league level, so that's always driven me to keep trying to get there."
Whether Maybin will get all the way there with his favorite team, or with somebody else, only those baseball gods know for sure.