By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
BRISBANE, Qld. – It can be difficult to understand.
For those who aren’t born and bred in America, collegiate sports and their fandom aren’t widely at the forefront, and the college baseball experience is often a foreign concept.
Many Aussies who go on to play the game professionally leave home in their teens and sign as free agents for bonuses that may look good at the time, but can wear thin pretty quickly throughout a pro career. Heading to college on a baseball scholarship from the southern hemisphere happens less often because of the commitment, time away from home, and the fact that it is the less attractive choice.
Maxx Tissenbaum took the road less travelled when the Canadian catcher chose Stony Brook University over signing professionally out of high school. While many more young Canucks choose the collegiate route than Australian players, those with the choice to go pro often believe they are ready to enter the working world and sign when their secondary schooling is done, not unlike their commonwealth counterparts.
Tissenbaum thought he was ready while he was finishing up at York Mills Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Ontario, and from certain standpoints he might have been. But after a trip to minor league spring training with his local team, the Toronto Mets, he realized that college might be his best next move.
“I saw what spring training actually looked like,” the 24-year-old said. “Because you have no frame of reference until you either know somebody who’s doing it or you’ve been at a minor league complex where you’ve just sort of had that experience where there’s 250 guys for nine starting spots. So I believed in myself as a player and I thought I could play at that level, but I don’t think I knew where to start with being ready to do it day in and day out.”
In his years at Stony Brook, Tissenbaum and the rest of his Seawolves squad shocked the world when the Division-I program from the America East Conference advanced to the College World Series for the first time in its history, giving him one of his best experiences in the game so far.
“It was a month of nonstop baseball, travel with the team, and it was also when we all got drafted,” he said. “We spent probably three weeks together on the road. It started out in Miami, we won that regional – which was the first time our school had ever done that – and then standing in the parking lot waiting to leave the ballpark our centre fielder got his draft call. He was a first rounder. We went out and celebrated that night.
“The next morning, we wake up, we go to the airport, and as we’re boarding the bus our catcher gets called in the third round. We fly to New Orleans to drive to Baton Rouge to go to LSU and then four of us got them, bang, bang, bang, bang, all at baggage claim. That whole month, being with the guys nonstop, playing, practicing, and doing something our school had never even come close to doing before was just outrageous.”
Tissenbaum left school when he was drafted for the second time, taken by the San Diego Padres in the 11th round of the 2012 selection process, and couldn’t have been more grateful for what he gleaned from his collegiate career.
“It was enormous,” the Brisbane Bandits backstop said. “You realize very quickly in pro ball that it’s a job. It’s not just baseball anymore. And as sad as that is for somebody who grew up as a fan, it’s just the reality of it. There are a lot of guys I’ve talked to who have said, ‘Man, I’d go back and take my senior year in a heartbeat.’
“I agree with that, but it’s just about mentally and physically maturing and realizing what a full-time job is, that’s the biggest thing. Going to school and having to balance your schoolwork, class, homework, study hall and practice hours, and whatever extra work you want to do for baseball, you realize in a big hurry that it’s a full-time job but you’ve got the insulation of school. Here, it’s your one and only job.”
When the former infielder first ventured down to the southern hemisphere last year, now in his second season in Brisbane, he reverted back to the playing ways of his days at Stony Brook. With the similar schedule, last year’s Bandits MVP was able to focus more on his time behind the plate to get the work done that he needed to.
“Figuring out how to stay consistent with my work, my approach, and everything every single day,” Tissenbaum said. “Going to Australia and only playing on the weekends was exactly back to college, where I could have a terrible weekend and only get one or two hits and go 1-for-15 or 1-for-18 and then next time I played – a week later – I was fine. I wasn’t going up there thinking man, I need to get a knock.
“The biggest thing when you go from playing four games a week to playing every single day for six months is figuring out how to maintain your work so you’re staying on top of whatever your craft is position-wise, and also staying on top of the mental side of the game so you’re not up and down like I was in 2012.”
A huge helping factor for Tissenbaum down under was learning the value of repetition, and being able to use his skills in games on a regular basis.
“You can do as many practice hours as you want,” he said. “But until you get to the eighth inning and the tying run’s on third and you’ve got a guy set up for a breaking ball and you have to call that pitch because that’s the right pitch to call, and you know it’s going to be in the dirt and you have to block it or else you’re going to give up the lead, no amount of mental blocking is going to allow you to experience that.”
With four minor league seasons under his belt, between the Padres and Tampa Bay Rays, Tissenbaum knows that each young player’s decision is his own. Whether they choose to pursue a college education through baseball or delve into the professional realm, he believes there is just one thing to consistently keep in mind.
“Enjoy every moment,” Tissenbaum said. “It really does go very quickly, whether it’s college ball or a pro season. You sit there and you look at it and it’s 140 games plus spring training, and day to day it feels like a grind, but then you wake up one day and think oh my god, I’m 24 years old and there are dudes in the big leagues who are 20.
“ You realize there’s such a small window to actually get where you want to be. Some people call it sacrifice, but if that’s what you really want to do its’ a decision you’ve got to make. Make the decision that you’re going to enjoy it and enjoy the work, because if you’re going to do it, there’s only one way to do it.”