Michael Mader, Charting A Course To The Major Leagues

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On a clear summer evening in Troy, NY at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, Michael Mader makes his way through the crowd of fans to a seat behind home plate: a radar gun in his right hand, and a God given gift for an arm on the other side.

Like many minor league pitchers, the hard-throwing Mader has to chart the progress of his team's pitchers on his off days.

"Do people have season tickets here, or do you think we'll have to move?" Mader asked me about trying to find a seat behind home plate as he stopped to chat with me prior the game.

"I think they do but you should be okay," I replied.

"I'll come back later in the game and we can talk," he said.

Mader and a few of his teammates walked away nearly invisible to the fans surrounding them.  While Mader may be nearly invisible on this night, he'll be highly visible in the future. The Miami Marlins' 3rd round pick from the 2014 MLB Draft is also charting something else: a course to the major leagues.

Mader sits in the dugout prior to his start on August 1, 2014 (Photo Credit: Greg Bessette)
I first met Michael Mader at Duchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, NY while he was videotaping the Muckdogs' pitchers during his off day against the Hudson Valley Renegades. In an odd coincidence, he sat down a few seats over from my friend and me. At the time I had no idea who he was but my friend started up a conversation with him while I went to get a soda. When I came back I joined in. After the game was over, Mader and I exchanged Twitter handles and parted ways. Over the next few weeks we exchanged messages and set up a time to do an interview.

After the top of the first inning Mader joined me in the stands down the first base line.

"What do you think of this stadium?" I asked Mader as the interview began.

"I can't believe this is a community college's field, we had nothing like this at my junior college," he replied.

Only a couple months ago he was pitching for Chipola College, a junior college in his hometown of Marianna, Florida with a ride to Florida State University all ready for him.

"Wasn't the plan for you to go to Florida State?" I inquired.

"Yes, that was originally the plan. The big thing was I got an offer out of 21st round offer out of high school from the Twins but I knew I wasn't ready. I had a really good freshman year at Chipola College... the coaches really worked with me. The Red Sox were very heavily after me and were going to offer me 5th round spot money but they thought I needed one more year and thought I'd be ready for sure. I thought physically I was ready but I had some downfalls mentally. This past year (at Chipola College) I got hit around a little bit, I needed to focus and get back in the strike zone. I needed to face reality: that was going to happen. After my sophomore year I felt like I was finally ready mentally and physically to make the jump to the professional baseball."

This past June, the Miami Marlins chose Mader as their 3rd round selection (105th overall) in the Major League Baseball Draft.  For Mader and his mother it was something special for him to get drafted by Marlins.

"What did it mean to you to get drafted by the Marlins, since you're from Florida?" I asked.

"It was really cool, it made my mom feel better because she'll be really close. She's only seven hours from Jupiter (FL), seven hours from Greensboro (NC), three from Jacksonville (FL), and five from New Orleans (LA). She's eight hours from Miami but it'll be a few years before we have to worry about that. This is good for her because she's used to going to every game. She was able to make it one game this season in Aberdeen but she's getting adjusted listening to the games on the radio. Also, Jeff Mathis (catcher for Miami Marlins) is from Marianna, Florida so it would be cool to make it there if he's still there and have him catch me."

As our interview progressed along Mader had to get up and head back behind the home plate to continue charting his teammates on the pitchers mound.

"I'll be right back and we can continue this, I just need to go back and chart these guys" said a very humble and apologetic Mader.

A few outs later, Mader shuffled through the crowd and returned to the seat next to me.

"How do you like playing professional baseball?" I asked.

"I'm lovin' it, I'm enjoying every minute of it. The bus rides are kind of a grind and you have to manage when you sleep and eat, but besides that it's been amazing. The fans have been amazing." replied Mader.

"What's the biggest thing you've learned playing professional baseball?" I asked.

"It doesn't really matter how hard you throw like it does in college. I could get away throwin' 91-92... Here the guys hit the ball more and make you pay for it. It really helps if you can throw your change-up, throw your curveball and off speed a lot more and let your defense work. I want to make my change-up a quality second pitch, I want to get a lot of hitters out with that pitch and get ahead with any of the pitches in my arsenal, and have a quality stat line," said Mader.

So far Mader has used this formula for success with the Batavia Muckdogs posting a 1.80 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 30 innings pitched. He was recently named to the New York-Penn League All-Star team.

As word of the young pitcher spreads through the Marlins organization it's only time before he's promoted and takes a step closer to the major leagues.

Mader pitching against the Vermont Lake Monsters (Photo Credit: Greg Bessette)
"There's been talk here and there about it from the players that if we don't make the playoffs players might get moved up. I think if we make the wild card then no one is moving up. They do have an innings cap on me of 30 innings but the coaches told me today that with my arm feeling good they may bump me up to 50 so that would give me a few extra starts instead of cutting me short," said Mader. "Hopefully I can do good and get called up."

As our interview ended we shook hands and Mader found his way back to his seat behind the plate, tracking his fellow pitcher.

Mader (orange shirt) and his teammates charting pitchers behind home plate on August 2, 2014 (Photo Credit: Corey Mansfield)
As a baseball player there is no ceiling for Michael Mader. At 20 years old he is still raw and learning to refine his craft. As a human being he is major league ready. While other players his own age may be changed by the prospects of stardom, the humble kid from Marianna, Florida just keeps on playing the game and charting his own course towards the major leagues.
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