Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Kevin Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org
There were times earlier in his career when pitcher Blake Maxwell thought he might be done with baseball. Like when he stunk up the start of the 2009 Portland Sea Dogs season, and anxiously awaited word he was being released.
Blake Maxwell used his sidearm delivery to go 10-4 with 15 saves and a 2.51 ERA the last two seasons with the Sea Dogs, but the Red Sox elected not to re-sign him.
2010 Telegram File
But that word never came, and Blake Maxwell fixed his delivery and shined for the past 2½ seasons.
Still, Maxwell will not be grabbing his glove and going out to stretch this morning, like he had every other March for the previous six spring trainings. Maxwell has no team to play for; unwanted after six minor league seasons in the Red Sox organization.
"It looks like baseball for me has come to an end," Maxwell said in a phone interview. "It is tough to deal with."
Maxwell had no bitterness in his voice, but the disappointment is difficult to hide.
Maxwell recorded a combined 2.44 ERA last year at Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. He finished the 2010 season with a 7-0 record and 2.61 ERA with Portland.
But when Maxwell's contract with the Red Sox expired after 2011, they did not offer to re-sign him. And when Maxwell's agent shopped him around in the offseason, there were no takers.
"A lot of teams said I had good stats, but I was not somebody they wanted to pursue," Maxwell said. "If I was left-handed or hit 95 (miles per hour) at some point ..."
Maxwell is a sidearm right-hander, and his fastball is closer to the mid- to high-80s on the radar gun.
And worse, Maxwell is 27. That's ancient in minor league years.
And then there is Maxwell's resume. He was a 40th-round draft pick out of little-known Methodist College (now Methodist University).
"If you were a higher round pick, or a guy with big-league time, you get more chances," Maxwell said.
Red Sox officials declined to comment on Maxwell, which is consistent with previous non-comments on players no longer in the organization.
But those officials have spoken before about what makes a prospect, besides putting up good numbers -- namely potential, along with timing and competition.
Look at how Boston is dealing with pitching prospect Stolmy Pimentel, who is on the 40-man roster. He was 0-9 with a 9.12 ERA in Portland last year and was demoted to Class A. Yet he is back this season.
Pimentel is also only 22 and has a fastball in the mid-90s. He's lanky, could get stronger, and if he masters his mechanics could be a major leaguer.
Boston obviously did not see that potential in Maxwell. Nor was he presented the same opportunities.
Maxwell came to Portland in 2009, his fourth full pro season. Known for his size (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) and endurance, Maxwell was used both as a starter and reliever. Used infrequently at the start of 2009, Maxwell was 0-5 with an 8.45 ERA, and had awful mechanics.
"I went nine days without pitching, and then seven days. I completely lost my arm slot," Maxwell said. "I was expecting to be released any day.
"I came to the field completely miserable."
But Maxwell, a joker and relatively easy going, knew the misery had to end.
"I decided that if I was going to go out soon I might as well find a way to start having some fun," he said. "I was talking to my college pitching coach and good friend, Kevin Allingham, and he said I should start sprinting in (from the bullpen). I thought, why not?"
And tradition began. Any time Maxwell entered a game, either as a starter or in relief, he sprinted from the bullpen to the mound.
Maxwell not only relaxed and turned his season around, he became one of the most popular players at Hadlock field.
"I always tried to do everything I could to make it enjoyable for (the fans), as well as to have as much fun and interaction with them as I possibly could," Maxwell said.
"I always felt at home in Portland. It was my favorite place I have ever played in my career."
But Maxwell would not return to Portland right away in 2010. Even though his numbers improved in 2009 and he went 7-3 after his bad start, Maxwell was assigned to Class A Salem to start the 2010 season.
No reason was given, but Maxwell's ability to pitch a lot of innings was welcomed on a Salem club full of young prospects whose innings were limited by protective pitch counts.
Maxwell was promoted back to Portland late in the season. He appeared in 11 games (seven starts) and was 7-0.
Maxwell looked like he had established some credibility. During spring training last year, he was called up to close five major league games and pitched five scoreless innings. He started the season in Portland but had hopes of moving up.
"I'm closer to the big league," Maxwell said at the time. "Just go out and give it everything I've got and see what happens."
Maxwell looked solid in relief at the start of the 2011 season, and the chance he was waiting for came May 5 when he was promoted to Pawtucket. Maxwell asked if he was just filling in, or would he be staying.
"They said I would be there until I showed I couldn't be there," Maxwell said. "They told me to get my car and my stuff (from Portland).
"I outpitched everybody. But then they signed Kevin Millwood. And I was holding the short end of the stick."
The Red Sox, needing starting pitching depth, signed Millwood and sent him to Pawtucket. To make room, Maxwell was sent back to Portland on June 1. Maxwell was shocked.
"It would have been different if I pitched badly," he said. "It's the hand you're dealt as a non-prospect."
Maxwell was promoted to Pawtucket two more times in June, for two days and six days. He returned to Portland both times, when relievers were sent from Boston back to Triple-A.
In Pawtucket, he had a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings. Over the past two seasons, Maxwell was 15-7 with a 2.70 ERA. Still, no organizations wants him in 2012.
"It's hard to believe I'm out of baseball," Maxwell said.
Maxwell received offers from independent league teams, but "if what I did last year wasn't good enough to get me a job in affiliated ball, then I don't think I'll be able to do anything in independent ball that will get me back either," he said.
Maxwell plans on returning to Methodist to finish his degree, while also serving as an assistant baseball coach.
He has his memories of pro ball, most of them good. For a laugh, he will click on YouTube to watch a clip of him sprinting in, especially the memorable dash he performed with catcher Juan Apodaca to end the 2010 season.
"That always brings a smile to my face," he said.
All in all, a good, albeit short, career.
"I gave it my best shot," Maxwell said.
Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: