After 11 years in Minors, Maggi a big leaguer

September 18th, 2021

TORONTO -- As the years stretched on and watched the faces of countless friends and teammates pass through the Double-A and Triple-A clubhouses that he himself couldn't quite escape for the better part of a decade, he often found his mind turning to Samwise Gamgee from "Lord of the Rings," the loyal companion who always coaxed Frodo Baggins to just keep going when all seemed lost.

"You get a lot of mental doubt, and you just have to keep going," Maggi said. "It's kind of been my motto. Keep going. It's from 'Lord of the Rings.' That's probably been my motto no matter what. No matter all the hard times, just keep going. You never know."

You never know.

When the 32-year-old Maggi got called into manager Rocco Baldelli's office on Saturday morning, he was panicking because he thought he was in trouble, as Baldelli and first-base coach Tommy Watkins interrogated him about his whereabouts on Friday night during his first big league trip, as part of Minnesota's taxi squad.

He was just down at the hotel bar, getting a drink, he insisted.

"'Well, that's what you should have been doing,'" Baldelli replied. "'Congrats. You're a big leaguer.' My heart and everything, the emotions right there were crazy."

It took 11 long years, spanning 1,042 games and 4,075 career appearances in the Minor Leagues across five different organizations, but Maggi had finally made it.

Year after year after year, as he toiled and grinded away in the high Minors, he told himself, "This is my year." He had thought about quitting more than 20 times, and as early as 2014, when he found himself in Double-A Altoona in the Pirates' organization for the third straight season, four years after he'd been selected in the 15th round of the 2010 MLB Draft.

The little things always kept him going, as he continued to put his life on hold for a decade in pursuit of the big league dream. He doesn't have a wife or kids. He's been earning a Minor League wage for all that time. But a text from his mom to keep going or a ping from his friend saying, "We believe in you," and the little opportunities he continued to seize in the organization kept him going, and just kept him coming back.

"There are people that you come in contact with in this game who have dedicated their entire life and all of their energy and emotion towards something they didn’t know if they would reach," Baldelli said. "There’s no way to know how these things play out, and there’s something very beautiful about that and the level of emotion that you feel."

Just being on the trip, even when he was still on the taxi squad and not yet called up to the roster, meant a ton to Maggi.

"Just to be thought about by a big league team," Maggi said. "Just to be mentioned. A lot of guys have been called to go on the taxi squads, and it's never been me. Just getting that opportunity alone, I've been happy since I got here."

And when he finally did get the news, the tears started to flow. They've been flowing on and off, all day, as dozens and dozens of people from his lengthy past have reached out to congratulate him. He didn't even have time to get loose before batting practice because he's gotten more than 100 calls, including old teammates he hadn't talked to in years, and even one of his ex-girlfriends.

But the first call, of course, went to his parents, who were with him every step of the way, with all those supportive calls and texts, never letting him give up on his goal of the big leagues.

"You’d think they would tell me to get a real job," Maggi said. "But my parents are unbelievable. They always kept me going. They always believed. I would have given it up, personally, a long time ago if it wasn’t for my parents, no question."

When he called his dad in Arizona, he thought the call had disconnected because there were no words from the other side of the line. His dad was just breaking down -- and simply had no words. When his mom got on speakerphone, she started screaming -- and then, they all did.

Maggi knows there aren't any guarantees here. It took Andrelton Simmons' inability to leave the United States and an injury to Rob Refsnyder to finally get him on a big league roster. Making things tougher is the fact that his dad doesn't have a passport, and the short notice meant his family wouldn't be able to make it to Canada to potentially see him play.

He's earned this spot, to be sure, with changes to his swing helping him hit a career-high 16 homers with an .850 OPS in Triple-A this season. He can play three infield positions -- primarily shortstop -- and man the corner outfield in a pinch. When he debuts, he'll be the third-oldest player to make his Major League debut in club history.

How did he make it all this way?

"I don’t know, honestly," Maggi said. "I think I’m just a good teammate and a good guy and I like to play. There were just people above my pay grade who liked me and just liked me around. I got small opportunities, like I said, and I started to adapt to the game differently."

"Also, I’ve been a grinder," he added. "I’ve always been motivated to help teammates and other players. I just think I bring that to the game, too. A lot of that has kept me around."