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Maxwell's 'fan club' keeps him cool

April 22, 2007|By BOB PARASILITI

Long before Justin Maxwell became a Hagerstown Sun, he had a fan club.

That luxury is usually reserved for rock stars and movie actors, but from Day One, Maxwell had a faithful group of followers who showed up most everytime he played.

The charter members of his fan club are his family, with his parents serving as the presidents.

"It's good," said the Suns center fielder. "In college, they were able to come over and see me play. In the minor leagues, there are a lot of teams playing in Florida, so you end up playing away from home, but my family has a chance to see me play a lot because I'm here."

Maxwell has a unique opportunity. He can go from high school to the major leagues without playing further than three hours from his home in Bethesda, Md. He played at Sherwood High before heading to the University of Maryland in nearby College Park. And now, after being drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2005 and playing in Vermont and Savannah, he comes to Hagerstown.

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"It definitely helps having your family around," Maxwell said. "It's a chance to get more positive feedback. My folks are so proud to see me playing in the pros."

If Maxwell stays the course, his family will see a lot more of his games in person. From Hagerstown, he could move to Single-A Potomac in Woodbridge, Va., and Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.).

Those stops are before the ultimate move to Washington with the Natonals. Maxwell's parents will be driving just 30 miles from home to see their son play in the team's brand new ballpark.

"I'm just happy to be playing pro ball," Maxwell said. "There are a lot of people out there who don't get the chance to do this. There are people who have physical problems and handicaps, so I feel very blessed to be able to use my God-given talents."

Ironically, Maxwell got himself in position to make a run at his lifelong dream of playing professional baseball by leaving the area.

"I got myself going when I went to play in the Coastal Plains League (during the summer)," he said. "I was hitting with wooden bats and I was off by myself and got to figure things out. I figured out that I had to get into a rhythm."

Maxwell's big turnaround hit during his sophomore year at Maryland. He exploded on the scene for the Terrapins, raising his first-year average from .239 to .317. He was drafted in the 10th round by Texas, but passed on the chance to look for a higher pick.

Then, as a junior, Maxwell only played seven games because of a fractured ulna bone in his right arm.

Still, the sophomore season was enough to raise interest in his abilities.

"I was fortunate that the Nationals scouting director had seen me play in the Cape Cod League," Maxwell said. "Then, another scout saw me play at Maryland before I was injured."

The Nationals saw more than enough talent to make Maxwell the Nationals' fourth pick in the 2006 draft. His combination of size (6-foot-5), speed and some power makes him an interesting prospect for Washington in its rebuilding process.

Another injury hampered Maxwell as a pro, though, as he missed a month with a stress fracture of his right toe. Now healthy, Maxwell is out to show his assets and prove he can stay healthy enough to play 140 games.

"I like to get on base any way I can and I like to run," Maxwell said. "I get antsy when I'm on first and nothing happens. I want to be running. I need to be consistent at the plate and get on base."

After all, if all goes well, Maxwell - and his fan club - isn't that far from the major leagues, be it in minor-league levels or miles from home.

"Hopefully, sooner or later, I'll be playing at RFK (Stadium) and then the new ballpark," Maxwell said. "I would like to get up there and get my career started quickly and win some championships."

And then, Justin Maxwell's fans would really go wild.

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