BRADENTON, Fla. -- The story of Moonlight Graham, the outfielder who played one inning of defense but never received an at-bat, owns a prominent space in baseball culture. Some might consider Graham’s story a tragedy, while others might find the beauty in it.
A century-and-change after Graham’s lone voyage on a big league baseball field, the story of Drew Maggi -- a journeyman without a Major League game on his résumé -- features equal parts beauty and tragedy. It’s a story that the 33-year-old isn’t done writing.
Maggi is, by definition, a Major Leaguer. That fact isn’t apparent on his Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs pages, but for about 48 hours, Maggi, who homered to break up the Yankees’ shutout bid in the ninth inning of the Pirates’ 9-1 split-squad loss on Thursday, enjoyed life in the Majors. For the rest of his life, Maggi will be a big leaguer; no one can take that from him.
He just hasn’t played in a Major League game.
“It’s been a lot of years, a lot of different teammates, a lot of different organizations,” Maggi said. “I think going through the process and being here now, I’ve learned a lot. It’s been a hell of a journey, man.”
Before Maggi -- selected by the Pirates in the 15th round of the 2010 MLB Draft -- earned his first and only big league callup, he played in the Minors for a decade with five organizations. From 2012-16, Maggi played 444 games at the Double-A level. On countless occasions, Maggi, whose career appeared to stagnate, contemplated hanging up his spikes.
“You always believe that you can get another shot, but as you get older, you have that in your mind: ‘This could be it for me,’” Maggi said.
Retirement crossed Maggi’s mind, but the support of family and friends kept Maggi on the field. After 10 years of pro ball, the Twins rewarded Maggi’s persistence.
Maggi woke up on Sept. 18, 2021, as a member of Minnesota’s taxi squad when utility player Rob Refsnyder sustained an injury. The Twins needed someone to fill out the roster. That someone would be Maggi. Following 1,042 games in the Minors, following 4,075 plate appearances, following countless hours of wondering whether he’d get his opportunity, Maggi -- who hit a career-high 16 home runs in Triple-A -- made it.
“Just hearing that you’re a big leaguer, it’s a different feeling,” Maggi said. “I got to a certain point where it was like, ‘You know what, it doesn’t matter. I love playing baseball. As long as I have a jersey on and I’m having a good time, whatever.’ That little Major League barrier, I always knew I could do it. When it finally got said, I broke down.”
Maggi received countless calls and texts when the news broke. He described having an “out-of-body” experience when he stepped onto the field during warmups. During batting practice, Maggi remembers looking around Rogers Centre and thinking, “[Man], this is it.” A year and a half after that experience, he struggled to put the feeling into words -- the feeling of achieving a dream that, at times, felt perpetually out of reach. All that was left was to play, to step onto the field, to dig into the batter’s box. He never got the chance.
Maggi didn’t appear in the Twins’ 6-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Sept. 18, nor did he appear in the 5-3 loss on Sept. 19, either. On Sept. 20, the Twins optioned Maggi back to Triple-A St. Paul.
Maggi hasn’t returned to the Majors since.
“For me, at the end of the day, I’m a big leaguer,” Maggi said. “I can always say that. I’m thankful for the Twins. They didn’t have to do that. I look at it as a positive; I always do.
“Now, it’s on to the next thing. Obviously, I would have loved to get in there and it didn’t happen, but everything happens for a reason. Now, I’m just a little more hungry.”
Maggi’s hunger to play that first game lands him back in Bradenton, back with the franchise that drafted him. All these years later, the city still has “that Bradenton smell” to Maggi. Much has changed since the first time Maggi stepped foot in this city, but the goal remains the same: Make it to the Majors, and this time, make his way into a game. That road won’t be easy, but Maggi didn’t come this far to only come this far.
“I’ve tasted a little bit,” Maggi said. “Now, I want it again.”