PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania—When Drew Maggi stepped into the batter’s box in the eighth inning as a pinch hitter, fans at PNC Park knew they were about to witness something extraordinary. Maggi, a 33-year-old infielder who had played over 1,100 games for over 13 seasons in the minor leagues, was about to take his first pitch in the Majors Wednesday evening.
The crowd and his fellow players rewarded him with an emotional standing ovation. The sight of his parents, who were there to witness their son’s big moment, brought plenty of tears to the eyes of a fan base that has been looking for something inspirational for a very long time.
It didn’t matter what happened next; Maggi had made it to the Show. More importantly, he had earned his place there through perseverance, hard work and faith.
He pulled his first pitch foul, got jammed up into an 0-2 hole, fouled off another pitch (had it been a smidge more inside, it might have landed him a home run), then struck out swinging on an Alex Vesia slider.
Maggi said, smiling, “It’s the best strikeout I ever had.”
Maggi told reporters after the game that he had a hard time putting into words how that night felt. “I can’t explain how I was feeling in the box,” he said. “I didn’t even know what to do. You guys were cheering me on. I don’t know, I never expected that.”
Maggi added that, through his 12-year, 10-month journey up to that moment, he thought that if he ever got here, it would be a normal at bat. “Obviously special, but the crowd cheering my name, I got my parents here, my three brothers, a sister back at home. . .”
He also saw his dad crying. “I don’t think I ever saw him cry before,” he said. “All those years, I wondered what I would say to my parents if that moment ever were to come. They’ve been right there with me. Hearing those words made it all worthwhile. I know the last 13 years have not been wasted.”
Maggi said that night that he was in awe of sharing the field with the world’s greatest players.
I’ve seen Maggi play for the Double-A Altoona Curves. Maggi had been called up before in 2019 by the Minnesota Twins. It only lasted a few days, and he never appeared in a game.
For years, baseball has always served as a metaphor for a life worth living—of chasing dreams, of getting and missing the signals, of taking risks that can lead to success beyond one’s wildest dreams. It is a slow, deliberate, exhilarating, and heartbreaking game.
Even now, I don’t think I am over Atlanta Brave Sid Bream being called safe on Francisco Cabrera’s game-winning base hit, driving in the former Pirate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series. That moment sent Atlanta to the World Series and the Pirates into oblivion.
Since then, the Braves have won dozens of division titles, the Pirates none.
There was a brief magical moment 10 years ago when the Pirates played in a wild-card game at PNC Park in October of 2013. Anyone who was there will tell you it was an incredible night. Although they went on to lose the next game, what that team left you with at that moment was hope, in the same way Maggi did Wednesday night.
Historian David Pietrusza has said that “Baseball is not about hope without effort, and a 162-game season demands day-in, day-out effort.”
Years ago, I wrote that baseball, before it waded too much into politics, always stood for a belief that because success is not easy, the act of achieving success makes it something to be treasured all the more.
Although limited by its three outs and nine innings, baseball is a game without a clock—it lasts until the final out. And no matter what the score is, hope always remains part of the game; it is always the tenth man in the outfield.
There was a restorative power in that moment with Maggi called hope. It is something we as a nation need more of in our daily lives.
On Sunday, Maggi was headed back to the Minors, but not before he notched his first Major League hit and RBI. On Saturday night, he lined a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning of the Pirates’ doubleheader sweep over the Nationals.
Baseball, like life, gives and takes. Maggi’s story is evidence that you should never give up.
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