Behind the Mask, Wheels Spinning for Saints Maxx Garrett
In his second season with the St. Paul Saints, catcher Maxx Garrett has proven to be one of the wittiest and most cerebral young men that has ever manned the position, using his intellect to help him to lead the club’s pitching staff. When he takes the field, it is clear that the wheels are turning behind the mask and that is helping to make the St. Paul Saints pitching staff one of the more difficult in the league to face.
Maxx Garrett – Introduction
Each night during homestands, the St. Paul Saints run a feature called Tales from the Bullpen that displays humorous anecdotes, stories, and impressions starring members of the club. From the team’s first season at CHS Field, all players were welcome to participate, regardless of whether they were “from the bullpen” or not.
The segment, which airs just prior to the ninth inning beginning, was a huge hit with fans, and the players soon embraced it as one of the most enjoyable parts of being a Saints player. Many of the most well-known players, including Vinny DiFazio, Willie Argo, Robert Coe, Tony Thomas, Alonzo Harris, and Mark Hamburger, among others, have participated in the segment, helping to make this a huge part of the fan experience.
While many have made their mark with the team in Tales from the Bullpen, Maxx Garrett has become as synonymous for his antics in the segment as he has for his play on the field. The humor and youthful exuberance he displays have reached legendary status, making him almost like the court jester of the team, which is a sad characterization to say the least. While his humor and character in general make it easy for fans to become enamored with him, the truth is that this is one of the most cerebral guys you will find in any sport, the primary reason why he has become such a huge hit with coaches and teammates alike.
An Synthesis of Athletic Skills
Growing up in the Northwest United States, Maxx Garrett idolized former Seattle Mariners great Ken Griffey, Jr. He was fortunate to be able to watch Griffey play on a regular basis, and his dad made it a regular event to go and see Mariners games so Maxx could see his childhood idol in person.
Maxx grew up playing football and basketball as well, but it was on the diamond where he truly felt like he belonged. His parents also owned a gymnasium, which came in handy in learning how to pounce on balls in the dirt with the agility of a cat.
In high school, Maxx was a success in both baseball and football, earning three varsity letters at Kamiakin High School (Kennewick, WA) in each sport. His success on the field would eventually lead to him being inducted into the school’s football Hall of Fame.
With the success he was having on the gridiron, it would seem natural that he would want to pursue that more fully, but there was clearly something special about baseball that made it the obvious choice for Garrett.
“It’s a lot different than any other sport in that it is the only sport you’re playing on the diamond; it’s not a square or rectangular turf. You see all different shapes, colors, sizes playing baseball. It’s a really tough game because you get a lot of time to think about what you’re doing out there. It’s not just instinct. It’s not just smashing heads. There’s a lot that goes on, and the intricacies of the game are so fascinating to me. It’s just very difficult. I think I’m drawn to that and I think a lot of these players are addicted to it because the good stuff doesn’t come around that often. So, when you do it’s very gratifying. It’s cool to share that experience with nine other guys out there on the field.”
Toughness of a Bulldog
After graduating high school, Max Garrett originally attended Columbia Basin College. He spent two seasons there, earning All-East Region honors in his freshman season and All-Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges First-Team honors in his sophomore year.
The next season he transferred to Gonzaga University where he appeared in 31-games, hitting .257 with 2-homers and 10-RBI. In his senior season, Maxx appeared in 54-games as the teams’ starting catcher, hitting .220 with 2-homers and 23-RBI. He also earned West Coast Conference honors, being named to the conference’s All-Academic Team. He graduated with a degree in sports management, posting a 3.54 GPA during his college career.
Moving Toward a New Frontier
In 2013, Maxx Garrett moved to the Frontier League, joining the Washington WildThings (Washington, PA). In his first season, he appeared in 15-games, just getting his feet wet in the professional game. In 2014, he appeared in 57-games, hitting .217 with 8-homers and 18-RBI, and the next season he would hit .181 in 62-games with 5-home runs and 14-RBI.
While posting a solid performance at the plate, it was behind the dish where he was really earning a reputation. In 2014, Maxx appeared in 25-games behind the plate, making just one error, while allowing only 12 successful steals. The next season, he appeared in 56-games as the WildThings catcher, making 4-errors and throwing out 14 attempting to steal against him.
On Cloud Nine
After three seasons in the Frontier League, Maxx Garrett was looking to take his game a new level, arriving at the St. Paul Saints training camp in 2016 looking to make it on the team. The catcher made the Saints roster and became an instantaneous hit with the club. Not only did fans love his antics, but the players took to him immediately as well.
Maxx appeared in 19-games last season, hitting .193 with 2-homers and 9-RBI. The pitching staff loved throwing to him, and he endeared himself to them by being a wall behind the plate, blocking numerous pitches in the dirt. He made no errors last season and threw out 36 percent of those attempting to steal against him.
His character, intelligence, and skills brought a great deal of respect from the team, and that was shown in August when Manager George Tsamis decided that he would carry three catchers on his roster despite having only 23 available spots. In fact, when he was questioned about it, the Skipper seemed almost indignant that someone was stupid enough to wonder why Maxx should not be on the roster.
The Many Facets of Maxx Garrett
Watching Maxx Garrett on the video screen during the Tales from the Bullpen segments, it is easy to see that he is an intelligent and witty young man. There is no doubt that his wit is that of a comedy genius, but there is a great deal more to the St. Paul Saints catcher, going way beyond him being an outstanding defender behind the plate.
It starts with a simple love of the game. Maxx doesn’t just relish the opportunity to head to the diamond every day. He just loves the sport and is not afraid to acknowledge the successes of others.
“I do appreciate good baseball so if a guy makes a good play, a guy makes a good pitch, I may talk to him a little bit. I will let him know about that because when I see a great play it makes sense to tell him about it.”
He also understands that it is not just the players on the field that are battling with each pitch. The home plate umpire is also wanting to make sure that he gets every pitch call right, and the Saints catcher is appreciative of the job that the boys in blue are doing as well. It’s part of the reason that he ensures that he is building a solid rapport with the home plate umpire each night.
‘They spend the whole game back there with you as well. You also want them to be prepared for what’s going on in a game. I think having a good rapport with the umpires is helpful, not only because you can find out where a pitch misses, or what he thinks of how your receiving. Maybe you are even in his way. They make mistakes, but they are trying their best, and so I want to make sure that I recognize them for that.”
Handling His Staff
Former Saints catcher Vinny DiFazio once said that his job was 40 percent catcher and 60 percent psychologist. It clearly is a challenge to manage 12 or 13 guys on a staff during the season, not only learning about their pitches and what they like to throw, but also understanding their character. It can be an enormous task to say the least, but it is one where Maxx Garrett is really excelling.
“When you have a relationship with so many other pitchers and a whole group of bullpen guys, you got to manage the whole staff. It’s not just their arms and their pitches that they can do, it’s also their mind and how you can build them up, how you can make them more confident, and it’s different for each guy. A lot of thinking goes into it just to make sure that they’re mentally prepared.”
The psychologist in Maxx may be no more prevalent than when his pitcher is struggling. It is those conversations that occur on the mound that can be the difference between wins and losses, and it is knowing what to say at that time that is as important as any pitch selection he will call.
“Every situation is unique. Sometimes we’ll talk about maybe what they need to do with the next hitter or what’s working for them and how we want to attack them, so he has a good game plan in his head. Other times just go out there to let them know that ‘Hey, life is good. The whole world is not going to come crashing down. We’re going to be all right.’”
A General Concern for His Staff
The success he has with his staff comes from the fact that Maxx Garrett is a very welcoming person. You would be hard pressed to find a nice, friendlier person on the diamond. He is as competitive as anyone, but that does not manifest itself as anger or animosity for his opponent. Instead, his desire is to put his pitcher in the best possible position, as his concern is more for making his pitcher look good than in making his opponent look bad.
This starts by building a trust with them where they know that he is working hard for them. He gets that the staff is not going to trust him if he has not given them reason to do so.
“One of the things I think I do really well is to get to know my staff; find out what they’re good at and develop a lot of trust between each other. I think guys enjoy having me back there because I really enjoy being back there and getting things done for them, so I think that there’s a level of trust that I’m pretty good at cultivating between the staff and I. They need to have trust that they are getting their best from me each night.”
These relationships have helped him so that he can make the right call when it is needed. This is one of the intricacies of the game that a lot of people miss. Knowing when to call a curveball in the dirt is as much about knowing how confident your hurler is feeling as it is about who the batter is and what the situation calls for.
“I think that’s one of the things that I cherish about the catcher’s position is that it’s handling the staff, knowing your bullpen, knowing what those guys can do. You know their strengths, you find out their weaknesses, and you really go from there. You ask them to tell you what they’re good at, what they like to go with in tough spots, so that they can trust you and you can trust them to do what they’re good at. You don’t want to put them in any bad spots, but getting to know your pitcher and what he really likes to do, developing a trust can really go a long way for the length of the season.”
Keeping It Complicated
While baseball is a sport where the participants are meant to have fun, if one is going to reach to the professional level, especially as a catcher, you have to be a person who really gets that this game is a complicated one. There is arguably no sport that is more taxing on an athlete mentally than baseball, because skill and reaction will only get you so far. It is how you handle adversity and how you can outthink your opponent which makes you a star in the game. Fortunately, that is right in Maxx Garrett’s wheelhouse.
“It’s such a mental game. You hear people talking a lot about it but it’s tough to find what really works for you. It’s going to be completely unique to you but, then again, you’re sharing it with everybody else out there, so I think it is a very interesting sport. It’s just not easy. It’s not something you just go out there and do because you’re physically talented. You still have to put it all together.”
Baseball is a game of failure, and maybe no position appreciates that more than the catcher, because you not only have to worry about your own success at the plate, but that of your pitcher’s behind the plate. It can easily lead to frustration, but Maxx’s approach to all things is really helping to keep the Saints catcher from falling into the trap of despair and aggravation.
“I think it’s about not getting too high, not too low. The guys who play this for a long time they get it. We have some veterans in this clubhouse who are good and are good on a daily basis; they have a good routine, a good process. That’s really what it’s about. Having a process and going about things the right way on a consistent basis. If you have a bad day then you still want to be the same person in the clubhouse the next day.”
A Lifelong Learner
While he handles the pitching staff of the St. Paul Saints as well as any, what is making Maxx Garrett so successful is because he never stops learning. He has been a student of the game since his father first introduced him to the sport and spends countless hours learning from the greats of the game, no matter what sport they starred in.
“I do a lot of reading. My dad was in the Marine Corps so I grew up in kind of a military household. Just watching him go about the way he does things and the workers’ mindset he had where you don’t get a free lunch, you’re going to go out there and earn it, and this game doesn’t really owe anybody anything. Every day is a new day, everybody is out here trying to compete, so my inspiration growing up was in watching and learning about the guys who just got it done. I would read about the all-time greats like Johnny Bench, Mr. Hustle Pete Rose, so I always took myself as an old-school guy. Even football players I read about. When I was young, the (San Francisco 49ers) ‘Niners were really good. I got to watch guys like Steve Young and Jerry Rice, I think catching goes a lot with that. That defensive mindset, like those great middle linebackers, I love watching: Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher. So, there was a lot of athletes who I like to watch and looked up to, just in the way they compete.”
These studies also extend to how to approach opposing hitters and teams, as well as trends in the game. It has left him with a lot of homework to do each night.
“I keep my own charts on each hitter. I definitely have my own thoughts on how I want to get a guy out. I think an approach that a lot of pitchers take is that I just can throw my best stuff and if he hits it then so be it. That’s just the best I got. But with other guys, I talk to them about a plan that I like, or how I want to get a guy out. They may say that they’re not really comfortable doing this or that depending on who the guy is, but we pretty much want to try to get a plan to where if we are going to die then we want to die with our best stuff.”
Most will tell you that this kind of studying can be quite boring, but Max is relishing it. He understands that the more he learns, the greater that his knowledge is, the greater the chance he has to put his team in a position to win.
“I love the chess match part of the game. The one-on-one battles. How much fun is that? That’s the part that you get a good feeling for as you’re playing, and I think that’s the fun part. The cat and mouse game that’s going go on with the hitter. You guys are doing a dance, you and the pitcher and the hitter. So, you’re trying to take your pitcher’s strengths and build it towards the hitter’s weaknesses and, at least, if you have a game plan and it doesn’t go well then you can adjust it. So, I like to have a plan for each guy, talk to a pitcher about it and if it works then we can stick to it. Some guys will completely change their next at-bat and some guys you stick with it until it doesn’t work or if they have a few guys on base and then figure out how we are going to change it. You’re kind of deciding if he’s going to make an adjustment if you want to make the adjustment before he does so it just goes back to why it’s so much fun. Trying to figure that all out, put it all together.”
Keeping the Momentum Going
As the 2017 American Association season is winding down, the St. Paul Saints are struggling to make the playoffs. It has not been the same jovial atmosphere the fans have become accustomed to as the team struggles to earn the final playoff berth.
It would be easy to get down and turn to talk of what could have been. However, in St. Paul, fun is good, and no one understands that better than Saints catcher Maxx Garrett. After working with the team’s hitting coach, Ole Sheldon, he is having his best season offensively, hitting .261 in 45-games with 3-homers and 23-RBI. His offense is catching up to his exceptional defensive skills, making it so that George Tsamis can rarely afford to keep him out of the lineup.
With a new approach at the plate, it might not be long before clubs will come looking to sign the St. Paul Saints catcher. Maxx Garrett has proven that he has the skills that would make him a great addition to any baseball team, they just may have to compete with Hollywood to get him.
St. Paul Saints Images of David Bergin Courtesy of Betsy Bissen/St. Paul Saints Unless Otherwise Noted
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA