Hometown Report

Max Stassi doubted his big-league future. How the Yuba City alum caught on with Astros

Astros catcher Max Stassi, left, and teammate Josh Reddick share a moment reflecting on when they were teammates with the A's before Houston's game at Oakland on Tuesday.
Astros catcher Max Stassi, left, and teammate Josh Reddick share a moment reflecting on when they were teammates with the A's before Houston's game at Oakland on Tuesday. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Catchers don't just wear uniforms – they encase themselves in something of a suit of armor, a second skin.

Max Stassi makes a living in the squat position, but no amount of gear could protect him from this curveball.

At the end of 2017 spring training, the Yuba City High School product suffered his greatest low. He was waived by the Houston Astros, the first time he had been cut in anything, never mind baseball.

"I was put on waivers ... and 29 other teams passed on me," Stassi said Tuesday night while in Oakland for a three-game series. "Didn't think I was good enough to play in the big leagues. I took that to heart and still keep it with me. I took that with me, and I never waste a day. I had to swallow my pride and ego. I never take a day in this game at any level for granted."

Stassi tweaked his batting mechanics, made Houston's Opening Day roster this season and has made 30 starts entering Wednesday night – more than his previous five seasons combined.

"Once you put all that gear on, you get into a totally different mindset," Stassi said. "You detach yourself from the normal life you have, and then go out and give it your all."

Stassi has given max effort since he got into the sport under the tutelage of his father, Jim.

Catching is in the family blood; it's what the fathers do.

The Bee's 1978 Player of the Year out of Yuba City, Jim Stassi was drafted by the Giants in the 17th round as a catcher out of Nevada. He reached Triple A in 1983.

Jim's father, Bob, was also a catcher. He reached Triple A in 1946.

"Catching is what I was born to do," said Max Stassi, who was batting .259 with six home runs and 18 RBIs entering Wednesday. "I always had a passion for it. It's something I love to do, and it keeps me involved in the game. I like the planning, the tendencies, the scouting of it.

"I take a lot of pride in it. It's just awesome to be such a big part of the nuts and bolts of the game, because it's won and lost with pitching."

Stassi was fascinated with all aspects of the game as a boy. When he was 11 years old, Stassi's father started the tradition of inviting him to attend early morning weightlifting sessions at Yuba City High School, where he coached the Honkers to multiple baseball championships.

His other two sons – Brock and Jake – also embraced the game.

"My dad never forced any of us brothers into baseball," Stassi said. "He would have me set my own alarm for 5 in the morning and if I wanted to go with him to the workouts, I'd get up. I got up. I loved going."

At Yuba City, he won three Sac-Joaquin Section championships, became a two-time Bee Player of the Year and The Bee's only four-time first-team All-Metro baseball player. Stassi over his prep career batted .512, slugged 40 home runs and notched 162 RBIs.

These players worked their way up from their roots in the Sacramento area to play in the majors. Here's a look at who is where on MLB rosters for the 2018 season. Photos by The Associated Press.

He was about knee-high to his father when he started catching. He doesn't feel the wear and tear of the position at 27 from thousands of innings in a crouch position, but he's endured pain otherwise.

Stassi was drafted in 2009 by the A's out of high school in the fourth round, three rounds later than expected. He's been traded. He's been promoted in the minor-league ranks. He reached the big leagues, then was demoted.

He has endured shoulder surgery and wrist surgery. His first major-league RBI came in jarring fashion – a 96-mph fastball off the face in 2013 in his second game, with the bases loaded.

This season, his fortunes have turned.

One highlight came on June 9, when he clubbed the longest home run of his life, a 466-foot bomb to center field in Arlington against the Texas Rangers.

"He's killing left-handed pitching," Astros manager A.J. Hinch told Houston media after Stassi's home run. "He's got big power. The ball carries really far for him. He's got great strength, great bat angle."

Hinch said he will play Stassi more against left-handed pitchers. The Astros' other mainstay catcher, Brian McCann, is a left-handed hitter.

The park that swallowed Stassi's home run was also the site of the fastball to the face, Tanner Schepper's 2013 heater. The ball glanced off of Stassi's shoulder to deflect the blow, if just slightly. A fraction of an inch higher and Stassi might have seriously been hurt, or worse.

"I was expecting a slider and got a fastball to the face," Stassi said. "It was a pretty amazing moment but not a great moment. I just got called up from Double A, my dad's at the game, and then he's in the ambulance with me to the hospital. It was scary. And yeah, my first RBI."

Jim and wife Racquelle will attend Wednesday and Thursday's games in Oakland. Jim is on summer vacation from Yuba City High teaching duties, meaning an abundance of Astros action.

Otherwise the family watches on TV from their home. Father and son remain close. The brothers are also in regular contact.

Brock reached the big leagues last season with the Phillies, a triumphant moment for the former 33rd-round draft pick. But the game is unforgiving. Brock is now out of baseball at 28, living in Lincoln. He is hopeful for a return to baseball.

"It's such a tough business," Max Stassi said of his own career and that of his brother. "Everyone loves you when you do well. The game doesn't stop for anyone. It just keeps going and it doesn't care if you're part of it or not. You have to earn your stripes."

Jim Stassi takes pride in how Max has persevered. He and wife Raquelle will go to Houston for two weeks this summer to watch their son. They're hoping this visit is nothing like their last one that included a trip to the hospital thanks to a fastball.

Jim recalled the scariest moment of his 50 years in the game as a player or coach.

"I was right next to the dugout so I was really close. He was right there next to me. I saw blood flowing out of his mouth," he said. "They took me into the club house where six doctors were looking at Max. I rode in the ambulance, stayed the night in the hospital on a couch. Max stayed in a dark and quiet room for couple of days with a concussion. No broken bones, no lost teeth. Very lucky. You just feel so lucky everything was OK. Now look at him. He's still here."