Maryland baseball has had its fair share of success in Major League baseball this century. Eric Milton won 89 games over 11 seasons, Justin Maxwell hit 41 career home runs, and Brett Cecil is currently in his 10th MLB season.
Cecil is the only Terp currently in the majors, but there are several more rising up through the minors who could soon have a big impact in the big leagues.
Mike Shawaryn, a starting pitcher, is currently with Double-A Portland of the Boston Red Sox. Drafted in 2016, Shawaryn got work in with the big league club during spring training this year, his second spring training with the Red Sox.
“It was definitely an interesting transition coming from three years at college. Schedules are different. You don’t have classes, you don't have your workouts and stuff at 6 a.m.,” Shawaryn said. “You just have to learn to adjust to that and get in a little bit different of a routine and once you’re able to do that, it just becomes another day in the office.”
Brandon Lowe, a second baseman, is currently with Double-A Montgomery of the Tampa Bay Rays. Drafted in 2015, Lowe broke his left fibula in the 2015 NCAA Super Regionals with the Terps, so he didn’t initially make a name for himself, but once fully recovered, Lowe dominated in the lower leagues. He won the Florida State League Player of the Year award in 2017 while with the Charlotte Stone Crabs in Advanced-A ball.
“This is your job now and you’re playing to keep your job, and everybody’s playing to take your job,” Lowe said. “You really gotta do what you have to do to be the best to your abilities.”
LaMonte Wade, a left fielder, is currently with Double-A Chattanooga of the Minnesota Twins. Drafted in 2015, Wade spent the entire 2017 season with Chattanooga. His season there earned him a non-roster invitation to 2018 Twins Spring Training in Fort Myers, Florida.
“I was super excited to get the phone call this offseason, to let me know I was going to big league spring training,” Wade said. “It’s a whole different ballgame over there.”
He was sent down to minor league camp on March 18, but he learned a lot from the time he spent with the big league club, learning from the best of the best.
“I learned a lot over there from the outfielders, the coaches. You really get to see the way people go about their business,” Wade said. “It’s just completely professional over there, but people also don't see that you have fun over there as well.”
Adam Kolarek, a relief pitcher, is currently with Triple-A Durham of the Rays, but was originally drafted by the Mets in 2010. Kolarek was traded to the Rays in 2016, where he worked his way up to Durham before the end of the minor league season.
“Coming to the Rays was kind of like a breath of fresh air. I just felt rejuvenated, and sometimes, a change of location, just being in a new place can inspire you to keep going,” Kolarek said.
In 2017, the Rays rewarded his success at Durham with a big league call-up. On June 29, 2017, the southpaw made his major league debut at age 28.
“You learn fast. You just kind of hang on and soak everything in as you can,“ Kolarek said. “From a realistic standpoint, it was never something that was guaranteed for me, so I think that made it all the more special to be called up.”
He appeared in 12 games in the 2017 season before getting sent down to Durham. Those few months with the big league club were moments he has treasured since, and he’s made it his goal to get back there.
“I think it was great to see while I was there that I can get hitters out, I can be successful at the big league level,” Kolarek said. “Having been there about a little over a month, I’ll know the next time I get a chance, I’ll have a little bit better of an idea of what I need to do and the adjustments I need to make.”
It took time for all of these former Terps to adjust to professional baseball, but it was different for each of them. Professional baseball is similar to college in terms of games and practices, but it’s an entirely new lifestyle on the professional level.
“You’re completely on your own,” Lowe said. “No one’s making you work out. No one’s making you do anything, so you really have to make your own routine.”
There is also less continuity in the minors than there is in college. One player could play for four different minor league teams in four years, instead of one college team for four years. Teammates and coaches are constantly shuffling as well.
“Coming up through the minor leagues, every year you have a different coach. Every year, there’s a different hitting coach, there’s a new manager,” Wade said. “I was lucky to play for the same manager two out of my first three years here, but that’s really unheard of. You really do have to be individual.”
The progression through the minors comes with other challenges. As these players worked their way up, the talent they faced and played with got better. In college, they might have been one of the best players on the team, but in the minors, everyone else was just as good.
“It’s very different. Everybody is the best player at their college or their high school,” Lowe said. “You can’t dwell on a game ... gotta move past it.”
On the pitching side, it’s the same way, but instead of competing against other pitchers, the main competition is the talent in the batter’s box.
“Playing at Maryland and playing at the time in the ACC, we had great competition each weekend,” Kolarek said, “As I went up higher in the levels, when I first got to like Double-A is when you can see up and down the entire lineup how many good hitters there are. That’s kind of the main difference between every level.”
The camaraderie in baseball reigns true in the minors. Players tend to stick together, getting promoted together and playing together for different minor league teams. Those early bonds make a big difference.
“Once you get in, you have to talk to people, get to know the others, stuff like that. You’re in a locker room in a confined space for so long you kind of become friends,” Lowe said. “That makes it a lot easier.
“Everyone is helping each other get to the big leagues.”