From Slovakia to Stony Plain, Macko now sets sights on Seattle

Vauxhall Academy Jets grad Adam Macko (Stony Plain, Alta.) was selected in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners. He’s currently pitching for the AZL Mariners. Photo: Vauxhall Academy

Vauxhall Academy Jets grad Adam Macko (Stony Plain, Alta.) was selected in the seventh round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners. He’s currently pitching for the AZL Mariners. Photo: Vauxhall Academy

August 22, 2019

By J.P. Antonacci

Canadian Baseball Network

Lots of kids have hobbies. Adam Macko had an obsession – baseball.

“Of course, he had friends, but baseball was love number one for him,” said Adam’s father, Vladimir Macko. “He was soaking everything in.”

There wasn’t much baseball to be played in Macko’s hometown of Bratislava, Slovakia. His parents signed him up for soccer, which ranks with ice hockey as the Eastern European country’s main sporting pastimes.

But Adam came home from elementary school one day and declared that baseball would be his game.

“We didn’t push him,” Vladimir said. “His passion comes from himself. He fell in love with baseball.”

That passion propelled Macko – a product of Alberta’s Vauxhall Academy – into the professional ranks when the Seattle Mariners made the left-handed pitcher their seventh-round selection (216th overall) in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Macko currently pitches for the AZL Mariners, based in Seattle’s spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona. It’s the latest change of scenery for Macko, who moved with his family from Slovakia to Bray, Ireland – where he won a 2013 Little League championship with, coincidentally, the Greystone Mariners – and then on to Canada, landing in Stony Plain, Alta., six years ago.

At each stop, Macko’s love for baseball – and pitching in particular – deepened. In lieu of formal coaching, he spent hours watching YouTube videos of Justin Verlander and David Price, mimicking their windups in front of a mirror.

“He started when he was seven years old and he hasn’t stopped,” Vladimir said. “He probably has small baseballs instead of blood cells in his veins.”

Macko, now 18, says baseball immediately grabbed him and has never let go.

“I loved the competition. I loved being part of the team,” he said. “And to this day, I love being a pitcher because of the one-on-one competition between the pitcher and the batter, and the responsibility. Being the one who can save the game. If you don’t give up any runs, you can’t lose. And that’s what I try to do every game.”

Macko’s competitive career began in earnest when he was 13. Coach Kevin Inch noticed him at a winter baseball camp in Alberta and invited him to join the Spruce Grove bantam triple-A White Sox – no mean feat considering he’d barely settled into his new Canadian home.

Bigger stages followed, including three years as a standout pitcher for the Vauxhall Academy Jets under coach Les McTavish.

Macko excelled at various scouting showcases and high-profile tournaments, throwing a no-hitter at the 2017 edition of the 17U WWBA National Championship. He pitched for Team Alberta at the Canada Cup and the Western Canada Summer Games, and three times made the cut to play in Tournament 12 in Toronto.

Scouts started to pay attention to the smooth-tossing lefty who could spot his fastball and had a good feel for his big-breaking curveball. Equally as impressive were Macko’s relentless work ethic, self-discipline, and his ability to handle pressure.

“My parents taught me that everything comes from the brain. That’s always stuck with me,” Macko said. “My parents always pushed me to try, even if I wasn’t good at something. They always encouraged me to smile and keep a good attitude, and everything would work out. That’s what I always try to do.”

He explained that if he gives up a hit, he wants to be someone his teammates can look to for the motivation to bounce back.

“That’s something I really take pride in – just being calm and collected,” he said.

Vladimir Macko credits his wife Milena with developing Adam’s mental fortitude, and expressed his gratitude for Adam’s coaches throughout the years.

“Kevin Inch was a great mentor and a great coach,” Vladimir said. “We were very lucky with coaches. They’ve had a great influence on him.”

Jumping for joy on draft day

Baseball America had Macko pegged as the second-best high schooler in Canada heading into the June draft. He sat 295th on BA’s overall top 500 list, and 438th on Perfect Game’s version of that ranking. But what matters most is what the teams themselves think, and Macko had heard from some clubs that he could go as high as the fifth round.

Draft day found Macko in the Vauxhall Academy common area, watching the results on TV with his parents and family, girlfriend Victoria Lauener, Vauxhall coaches and teammates, and Inch – now his agent – and Inch’s assistant, Michael.

“It was very nervous, because of course, this is something that can happen once in your lifetime,” Vladimir recalled.

The suspense built as each draft pick was unveiled, with Macko quietly upset when he didn’t go in the fifth or sixth round.

“I had really high expectations coming into that day, and when I didn’t get picked where I thought I would, I was disappointed – almost angry,” he said. “But when my agent told me I was going to be chosen by the Mariners and then my name was called, I started laughing out of joy. I was super happy.”

When his name flashed on the screen as Seattle’s seventh-round pick, the room erupted with cheers.

“We just started laughing and jumping and hugging everyone around us,” Vladimir said.

Macko had already decided that were he to be drafted, he would forgo his commitment to Purdue University and turn pro.

“I thought I was ready, and I still think that. I thought it was the right decision for me,” he said.

He flew to Arizona on June 27 and signed his professional contract, which included an above-slot bonus of $250,000.

“I’ve been playing ever since, and loving it,” he said.

Trusting his stuff

For the past two months, the young pitcher has been taking advantage of every opportunity he can to improve, hanging on every word from pitching coach Yoel Monzon and other organizational instructors.

“Everybody’s always super nice. I could chat with anybody who comes my way, whether it’s the pitching coordinator or the guy in the video room,” Macko said. “Everyone’s super open-minded.”

As someone who spent years studying YouTube videos to hone his delivery, he loves now having access to so many high-tech evaluative tools to analyze his mechanics and pitch design.

“It’s awesome. I’m so overwhelmed by everything we have here,” he said.

But the most important resource for Macko might be the club’s pitching instructors.

“They have the answer to every question I have. You can only learn so much on YouTube. Not everything is available on the internet, as crazy as that sounds,” he said with a laugh. “They seem to have 10 times the knowledge I have, so I try to pick their brains every chance I get.”

Off the field, Macko has easily adapted to living on his own, away from home.

“I really feel like Vauxhall has prepared me for living alone – doing your laundry, buying your food. So from that perspective I already feel like I was ahead of the curve thanks to Vauxhall,” he said.

From the baseball perspective, he says he’s learning a lot – including how to cope with failure, which isn’t something he’d had to face in his young career.

“I always have my expectations at the highest. I expected to come out and dominate everybody like I did in high school. When that didn’t happen, it was something new to me,” he said.

After a few rough outings, Macko said he started pressing, overthrowing his curveball and losing command of his off-speed pitches.

With help from his coaches, he was able to hit the mental reset button and rediscover his command, along with his confidence.

“I kind of became myself again. I’m not trying to be someone that I’m not,” Macko said. “It’s starting to go, and I’m excited.”

In six appearances (two starts) with the Mariners of the Arizona League (Rookie) and one game with the Everett AquaSox of the Northwest League (Short Season A), Macko has posted a 3.12 ERA in 17 1/3 innings. He’s allowed 12 hits and six earned runs, recording 25 strikeouts against 12 walks and two hit batsmen.

Opponents are hitting 1.94 against him, and his WHIP sits at 1.38.

Macko is encouraged by his healthy strikeout rate, which is a hallmark of his game.

“Every time I face a hitter and I get to two strikes, I try to strike him out,” he said. “Probably the most satisfying thing about a strikeout is hitting your spot – thinking to myself, ‘he’s going to swing over this if I hit my spot.’”

Before games, Macko will review scouting reports on the opposing team’s hottest hitters, but he tries not to dwell on them.

“I try to rely on the scouting report, but I’m not sure if I like it,” he said, explaining that learning about a hitter’s hot zones – the areas of the strike zone where that hitter most often makes solid contact – can plant seeds of doubt in his mind about hitting those spots.

“I like to rely on my strength and trust my own ability,” Macko said. “As the pitching coach has taught me, ‘they haven’t seen your best stuff.’”

Powering up

Macko says he is trying to take in all the lessons he can from his first few months as a professional, especially after challenging games.

“To me, (being a professional athlete) means being able to overcome failure, and how well can you respond after failure,” he said. “In high school I would see way too many long faces after losses, and helmets being thrown in the dugout. I think it’s the ability to manage your emotions.”

One thing Macko already understands is the discipline needed to excel. He follows a strict nutrition and conditioning regimen, and after the season he’ll attend an organizational high-performance camp from September to November. His goal is to add muscle to his six-foot, 180-pound frame, which should help him add the fastball velocity he considers the key to elevating his game.

“That is probably the number one thing I’m focused on right now,” Macko said. “I don’t want to jinx myself, but my command has been pretty good. I’m figuring it out. So the next thing I need is to get stronger.”

Macko’s parents follow his progress online, but they’re not overly concerned about the results on the field – moreso that Adam is working hard and developing the resilience he’ll need to succeed.

“He’s always trying something new, trying to get better,” Vladimir said.

“He’s still developing his skills. I think this will never end.”