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He played more than 1,100 minor league games, and finally made an emotional MLB debut

After more than 1,100 minor league games, Drew Maggi of the Pittsburgh Pirates made his Major League debut on Wednesday.
Joe Sargent
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Getty Images
After more than 1,100 minor league games, Drew Maggi of the Pittsburgh Pirates made his Major League debut on Wednesday.

During his 13-year career, baseball player Drew Maggi has seen plenty of pitches. Over more than 1,150 career games, he has stepped up to the plate nearly 4,500 times and taken five figures' worth of balls and strikes.

But Wednesday night was different.

"I can't explain how I was feeling in the box. I didn't even know what to do," Maggi said after the Pittsburgh Pirates' 8-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers — his very first under the spotlights of a Major League Baseball team after a career spent in minor league baseball.

From Bradenton, Fla., to Charleston, W.V., from Tulsa to Little Rock, and most recently Altoona, Pa., Maggi has been the epitome of a baseball journeyman, playing season after season in the minors dreaming of his shot in the big leagues.

After more than a decade, that moment finally came Wednesday night. As the Pirates headed into the bottom of the 8th inning with a 7-run lead, Pittsburgh's manager turned to 33-year-old Maggi to let him know he'd be going in as a pinch hitter.

"My heart started pumping. I was like, this is it. This is the moment. Take a deep breath," Maggi said.

He stepped onto the field, adjusting his batting gloves, and paused to hear the crowd chanting his name: Maggi, Maggi, Maggi.

"Through the journey, I thought I'd make my debut, and it would be a normal at-bat, obviously special — but the crowd cheering my name, I got my parents here," Maggi said later. "I mean, this is unbelievable."

His first swing sent the ball far into deep foul territory, delighting the crowd. The second pitch, a second foul; the third, a ball; then, a strikeout swinging on the final pitch. As he jogged off the field, the crowd gave him a standing ovation — his parents among them.

Maggi was drafted in the 15th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He spent five seasons in their minor league organization, then moved on to stints with several other organizations, including the Angels and the Dodgers.

Working conditions in the minor leagues have long been tougher than the majors. Even as the average MLB salary has topped $4 million, most minor leaguers earn between $400 and $700 per week and are paid only during the regular season, forcing many to get part-time jobs in other parts of the year.

In 2021, in his 11th season as a minor leaguer, Maggi was called up to the majors for the first time by the Minnesota Twins.

Speaking to reporters that year, Maggi said that watching teammates get called up while he stayed behind had left him feeling like Samwise Gamgee, the supportive best friend of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.

"You get a lot of mental doubt, and you just have to keep going," Maggi said then. "It's kind of been my motto. Keep going. It's from 'Lord of the Rings.' That's probably been my motto no matter what. No matter all the hard times, just keep going. You never know."

Still, Maggi never saw playing time with the Twins that season, nor in 2022, when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. He was traded back to the Pirates later that season, returning to the team that first drafted him.

On April 23, the Pirates brought Maggi up to the active roster. The first two games were narrow victories — a 2-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds and an 8-7 loss to the Dodgers — and the team didn't play him.

With his first major league at-bat under his belt, Maggi crossed another item off the bucket list on Friday: The Pirates named him to their starting lineup at third base.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.