Bruce Maxwell is on a mission.

As one of four catchers on the Syracuse Mets' roster, Maxwell, 30 , goes about preparing for today's doubleheader at Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, New Jersey, in relative anonymity.  Signed nearly one year ago by Syracuse's parent club New York Mets as a free agent, playing Triple-A baseball, one step away from the big leagues, in a Double-A ballpark, isn't a bad place to be for Maxwell.

Syracuse is at the tail end of a six-game road trip playing opposite the Buffalo Bisons. Maxwell looks for a sign if he has been penciled in by manager Chad Kreuter for action behind the plate or as a designated hitter.  Like his teammates and opponents, Maxwell wants a chance to prove that, when the phone rings, he should be the next man up to the big league roster.

A quick look through a copy of Syracuse Mets Magazine, it becomes easy to see just how much competition each club has at it's top affiliate.  There are prospects; high draft selections with big bonus dollars invested by New York on their progression.  The supply of Maxwell's teammates with MLB experience is also plentiful.

Getting to the big leagues is a monumental task, but staying at the game's elite level has proven time and again even more difficult.  For Maxwell, a second-round draft selection by the Oakland A's in 2012 from Division-III Birmingham-Southern College, he was presented with an opportunity to realize his athletic dreams.

Fast-forward to the 2019 baseball season.

courtesy of Syracuse Mets

Maxwell, after seeing parts of the previous three MLB seasons in an A's uniform (119 games), couldn't get a job. Oakland nor any of the other 29 MLB clubs called. As a child of a mixed race couple, Maxwell felt he wanted to have some of his political views heard and noticed.  During the 2017 season Maxwell became the first MLB player to take a knee, to protest what he believed to be instances of racial injustice and police brutality in America.

That Saturday game against the Texas Rangers in September, in Oakland, changed the trajectory of Maxwell's career.

With no major or minor league deals to mull over, Maxwell took his baseball skills south of the border in 2019.

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"I really didn't have any options," Maxwell said during a recent telephone conversation.  "I didn't have any offers in the States at the time, so it was Mexico."

Promise awaited with the Mets' organization, but first Maxwell would have to prove to himself and scouts that his skills weren't on the decline. With no specific plans drawn up in the beginning of his journey to Mexico, Maxwell felt this was the best option for him.  Being able to speak the language and have a fair amount of understanding Mexico's culture, the now former Oakland backstop was confident he could make his opportunity with the Monclova Acereros work.

"It's different down there. There's not as much politics.  We played everyday to win," says Maxwell shortly before a Syracuse Saturday night home game against Lehigh Valley.  " There are a certain number ( there can be six foreign players to each club in the Mexican League) of imports the clubs can have.  You and your teammates whole goal is to win a championship."

Knowing some of his teammates from their MLB background added to a smoother transition for Maxwell in Monclova, which is located more than 1,000 miles north of Mexico City.

Al Alburquerque ( Detroit Tigers), Erick Aybar (Anaheim Angels), Chris Carter (Houston Astros), and Francisco Peguero (San Francisco Giants) were among Maxwell's locker room pals wearing Acereros uniforms.

"It was good to lace up with these quality guys," tells Maxwell.  "My experience playing in Mexico was less stressful than in the States."

A break from politics and kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem, which was first ignited by fellow Bay Area athlete Colin Kaepernick , seemed to be just what Maxwell needed.  In the absence of interest by the baseball establishment Stateside, Maxwell sent a message of how wrong they could be.

In 109 games, Maxwell belted 24 home runs, (tops in his previous seven professional seasons), hit .325, and played an integral role in Monclova winning the league championship. With the 120-game schedule behind him, Maxwell, armed with a productive season in the books, would begin the waiting game - again.

"Travel in Mexico is similar to Triple-A in the States.  Trips under six hours, we took a bus.  We pretty much flew everywhere south of our ballpark," confirms Maxwell.

Granted a free agent by Oakland on November 2, 2018, and then forcing scouts to take notice of the goods he could bring them on MLB fields, Maxwell's baseball timeline begins to speed up by 220.  Two years playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, with scouts in his shadows, on July 30, Maxwell is signed by New York.

Assigned to the Mets' alternate training site in Brooklyn, an invitation to spring training in Florida was offered to Maxwell when signing.

"I spent two months there," Maxwell reveals about his joining the Mets' organization.

On March 24,2021, one week prior to start of the MLB season, which had the Mets on the road in Washington, D.C. visiting the Nationals, with little surprise to him, Maxwell was reassigned from the big league camp to the minor league complex in Port St. Lucie.

On May 4, Maxwell  was assigned to Syracuse's roster.

After paying his dues in the minors, beginning in 2012 with the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York - Penn League and a teammate of Cooperstown native Philip Pohl, and  being apparently ostracized from the American baseball landscape, the kid from Huntsville, Alabama  has seen his career come full circle.

Maxwell's welcome to Triple-A East was a memorable.

courtesy of Syracuse Mets

On May 7, in a game which Syracuse came up short at NBT Bank Stadium 17-11, Maxwell contributed heavily to his club's offensive production.  He went 3-for-5; a home run, double, single, and five RBIs.

"That home run felt really good. That was the first game of the season for me, and I came out and put out for my team," Maxwell explains with a smile in his voice.  " It was a good confidence builder, and hopefully there are more good things to come after that."

Memories of playing in Cancun, Monterrey, Tijuana, and soon, perhaps Rochester and  Worcester can be crossed off by Maxwell, as he sets his  baseball GPS for Citi Field in Queens; downstate some 260 miles.  Any immediate plans for a return to an MLB stadium for Maxwell run through the "Garden State's" capital this week, and a six-game homestand next week in Central New York.

Bruce Tyrone Maxwell has given no sign of having quit in his DNA. Politics aside, this is one former Bay Area athlete you can't help but to root for.

Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley.  He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com. 

 

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