Former Raider Great Finds Success with USA Baseball
For most people, teaching or coaching teenagers doesn't sound like the best way to spend a career. Former Middle Tennessee and Major League Baseball player Jason Maxwell couldn't imagine doing anything else, though.
After playing 12 years of professional baseball as a utility infielder, including stints with the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins, Maxwell started chasing his real calling: teaching the game he loves to kids.
"I've known I've wanted to be a coach all my life," he said. "I've had a lot of great role models, from high school to college with Coach [Steve] Peterson and Jim McGuire. Those guys took time out of their lives to invest in me, and I always felt it was right that I invest in other kids and give back."
Maxwell was named the first head baseball coach at Ensworth High School in Nashville in 2006, where he still coaches every spring. His teams have made eight straight state playoff appearances, including a state quarterfinal berth this past spring.
Not one to be satisfied, soon after he took the job at Ensworth he set his sights even higher in the coaching ranks.
After serving as a 15U National Team Trials coach in 2014 and 2015, he made his international debut as an assistant coach for the USA Baseball 15U National Team in 2016. That team would go on to win a bronze medal at the 2016 15U Baseball World Cup in Japan.
Now, Maxwell has added another rung to his national coaching ladder.
In addition to his work with the 15U team, he was recently named the field coordinator for the 2017 14U National Team Development Program (NTDP), meaning he will oversee the event that offers young athletes an opportunity to connect with USA Baseball staff.
The program, which will take place at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina, includes skill development sessions, off-field education seminars and intrasquad Stars vs. Stripes games to assist in the development of the athletes.
18 of the 40 players invited to the camp, held from July 24-29, will be selected to the 2017 15U National Team Trials roster.
"It was a surprise to me how it all started," Maxwell said. "But, to represent USA Baseball is a no-brainer, so I jumped on it when I got the chance.
"I never in a million years thought my baseball journey would take me as a coach in USA Baseball, and then to Japan, and now being the field coordinator for the 15U team. It's all been an honor and a blessing, and I can't wait to go to North Carolina."
Maxwell, who grew up in Lewisburg, Tennessee, about 45 miles southwest of the MT campus, was a three-sport athlete at Marshall County before committing to the Blue Raiders, where he played from 1991 until 1993.
It was while he was still at Marshall County that he figured out what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Though he was recruited heavier in football than either basketball or baseball, he decided to follow his coach's advice and play college baseball. Then, just maybe, he could get the chance to play professionally and follow that up with a career as a coach.
He became a utility kind of infielder, playing wherever he could see the field. In actuality, he was grooming himself for a future as a coach, learning the game from every angle.
"Early on, I played all positions. In high school I started in the outfield, then junior and senior year I played third base and shortstop and pitched," Maxwell said. "Then my freshman year in college I played outfield and first base and then switched to shortstop.
"You never want to limit yourself. I think in today's world we limit ourselves a lot, especially in sports. I never wanted to limit myself."
For more than 20 years, Maxwell had a ride playing baseball that most players don't experience.
He had a solid three-year career at Middle Tennessee, snagging All-Ohio Valley First Team honors in both 1992 and 1993 and helping the Blue Raiders reach the NCAA tournament in 1992. He wasn't highly recruited by Major League teams, though, and when he was drafted in the 74th round in the 1993 MLB Draft as a junior and decided to chase his dream, it didn't look like his professional career would amount to much.
Five years later, he made his Major League debut with the Cubs in 1998, the same season Chicago's Sammy Sosa and St. Louis' Mark McGuire battled all season for the single-season home run record. Maxwell played two more seasons in the MLB with the Twins and bounced around the minor leagues until he retired in 2004. He is still one of the lowest drafted players to ever reach the majors.
His experience as an under-scouted player who reached his dream in the big leagues provided an invaluable teaching tool when he became a coach.
"It taught me that everybody has a chance, no matter where you are or where you go," Maxwell said. "Once you get there, you have to go out and prove it.
"I'm a firm believer that if you take advantage of opportunities, then you have a chance to win not only in the game of baseball but in the game of life. Somebody gave me an opportunity, and I sure as heck wasn't going to waste it. I want to teach my players that."
The lessons Maxwell learned while he was a player show in the way he coaches.
After games, he will bring his players together in a huddle, much the same as many coaches do. In the speeches he gives, he tries to share his experiences and show his players that they can achieve great things if they work hard and never give up.
Most importantly, he tries to use the game he loves as a teaching tool to try and help his players become not only excellent baseball players but also upstanding young men.
"I just want the kids to be great teammates, to be coachable players and to be great people," he said. "If you can get them to buy into that, you start to develop a good program and a great group of kids."