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Canadian catcher, catching on
By Dario Passarelli
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Minor league prospect Maxx Tissenbaum is in the process of a full makeover, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays have taken a step-by-step approach in transforming the Toronto native from an infielder into a catcher, and the results are already starting to show.
In his first year, the Charlotte Stone Crabs catcher had a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 43% of those trying to steal.
“One of the first days I was here, our catching coach Paul Hoover said to me ‘Here’s the drill we are going to do’ and it was a little bare hand catch the ball drill,” said Tissenbaum. “If we can’t catch an underhand flip with our bare hand which is first grade level, how are we going to graduate from college and catch a 94 m.p.h. sinker, with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth inning, with their number three hitter at the plate.”
There was no ego at having to start at the basics, there was no angst in how this may look.
What the neophyte catcher realized was that the steady, gradual approach was the right choice as it was a step-by-step process he could engage in.
“How are we going to know how to call that (pitch),” said the student about that eighth inning scenario. “How are we going to know how to look for it, how are we going to know how to catch it if we haven’t already done first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade and graduated all the way up.”
The results can only get better with time for Tissenbaum, who is no stranger to hard work.
“There’s a video of me on YouTube (out of high school) as I had shovelled snow out of the batting cage,” said the left-handed hitter, while sitting at the Charlotte Sports complex. “There was four feet of snow at Vaughan Park and there I am taking batting practice.”
Sitting behind the plate was never in his thoughts growing up as his dream was playing the infield.
Ever since he was in diapers and sat, literally, in his blue, red, and white regulation size Roberto Alomar glove, he was going to be a short stop or second baseman.
“It was always, I wanted to be shortstop for the Blue Jays,” said the 23 year old, who was originally drafted out of high school by Toronto in 2009. “Then it obviously evolved after I realized there is only one shortstop for the Blue Jays, only one shortstop for the Yankees.
“I just want to play in the big leagues.”
He was honoured to be drafted by his hometown team and one step closer to his dream, but the Toronto native who regularly went to Blue Jays games with his grandfather, knew it wasn’t the right time.
Turning the offer down was not a step back, but an opportunity for an education and started a systematic search for the best scholastic fit for the Tissenbaum family.
“My mom and I made two giant boards, one was ranking the baseball side of things and one was ranking the academic side.” the York Collegiate high school graduate said. “We tried to get as close to one, from the best baseball team and the best school I can find, with a number of other factors such as will I play, do I like the coach, do I like the city, am I too far from home, not far enough away.”
They chose the Stony Brook University Seawolves where he spent three years before being drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2012, only to be traded to Tampa Bay and his career as a catcher began.
Having to change positions at this late stage can be a knock to any youngster’s confidence, but to a man who is pursuing his dream, all it took was the right approach and he found it with the Rays.
“I found a huge, huge difference since I came over to Tampa Bay with the way that things are taught,” said the former second baseman.