Justin Maxwell buttoned up his old No. 30 Washington Nationals jersey over his dress shirt and tie Tuesday in the hallway of the Liz Donohue House in Northwest D.C., a project completed through the All-Star Legacy project in support of nonprofit group So Others Might Eat.
Maxwell, a former Maryland baseball outfielder and nine-year MLB veteran for four teams, including the Nationals, took part in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new complex housing 37 homeless and low-income families.
The ceremony was one of several team events in advance of next week’s All-Star Game in Nationals Park. Maxwell is slated to appear at an autograph session on Friday alongside several other former players for All-Star FanFest.
After Maxwell spent three years in College Park, hitting .299 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs, the Nationals selected him in the fourth round of the 2005 MLB draft. Maxwell made his MLB debut with Washington in 2007 and hung around in the big leagues until 2015. He finished his career with a .220 average in 441 games.
Following the ceremony, Maxwell spoke with The Diamondback about his playing career, his involvement with MLB All-Star activities and his view of Maryland baseball. The conversation has been edited for clarity.
How’d you get involved with SOME and what does it mean to you?
The Nats reached out to me back in February about being a part of their All-Star week events, so I’ve been excited. You know, first of all, I’m excited that they even thought of me, considering my last game for the Nats was in 2010. But being a local kid and seeing the things the Nationals and Major League Baseball are doing in the community, it’s awesome. It impacts everyone in the community. They’re going to impact a lot of lives in a positive way, and it’s really nice to see that.
How cool is it to be involved in All-Star week events like FanFest?
To get drafted by the Nationals initially at the start of my career was kind of neat, but I feel honored that they still thought of me to be involved in the events, considering, you know, I had a small sample size with them in the organization. I always wanted to be an All-Star, and it’s cool to be a part of the All-Star festivities.
How do you remember your first big-league hit, a pinch-hit grand slam for the Nationals in 2007?
No one ever forgets their first MLB hit, and to have it go off in that fashion was pretty priceless. I was actually able to get the baseball, too, which made it even better. It was a good start to a great career. I had a lot of fun playing. And like I said, I wouldn’t take away being drafted by the Nationals. I’m really happy that my hometown team picked me up.
When you made your Nats debut, the team was playing at RFK Stadium. Does a new stadium like Nationals Park deserve an All-Star Game?
It’s the best setting for America’s pastime, to play the All-Star Game in D.C. It’s going to be a great game, I’m looking forward to it. And I have some friends who are going to be in the game, so I’m looking forward to seeing them as well.
On to Maryland baseball: From 1991 to 2010, Maryland players were picked 36 times in the draft. From 2011 to 2018, MLB teams have drafted Terps 35 times. How has the program evolved and gained relevance nationally?
Me, John McCurdy, Steve Schmoll, we were kind of the first guys to get some recognition. And it really says a lot about the program and the direction that they’re headed and the coaching staff that they have there, and also to the players. You know, they’re starting to get a lot better recruits and starting to build a culture of winning there.
It’s exciting to watch. In the past, I think some former players wouldn’t follow the program, but now all of us are following to see how the Terps are doing. It’s nice that we’re bringing that baseball culture and the attitude of winning back to College Park.
How has the shift from the ACC to the Big Ten affected Maryland generally, and baseball specifically?
For our athletic department, it really helped us out being part of the Big Ten Network. I mean, I think that was a smart move at the time. But I’m an ACC boy. So, I still kind of follow some of the ACC clubs.
It’s been nice to follow all our sports programs on the Big Ten Network, because we not only have a phenomenal baseball team, but our women’s lacrosse and field hockey teams are amazing, and our football team’s coming along, and our basketball program’s always been solid. So it’s been nice to be able to follow the programs.
With other sports gaining popularity in the DMV, how is baseball doing?
I’m actually doing some youth coaching now, so I see a lot of talent in the area. There’s a lot of passion for the game of baseball. A lot of kids are hungry to try to play at the next level, and it’s great to see. I feel like it’s improved since I was a young player.
The more the kids in the local area get exposure to talent around us, in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, I think the more the DMV will grow. It’s going to push more kids to be better baseball players because they want to see really how far they can go in the game.
Have you been back to College Park recently?
I talked to the team a couple times in the fall, so I know some of the players down there. I know our incoming recruiting class is very, very good. The assistant coach, Matt Swope, was my mentor when I played. We played center field and right field together, and he kind of showed me the ropes as a young player at Maryland. They’re doing a great job and I’m excited to see what they’re going to do this upcoming spring.
What does Maryland baseball need to do to take the next step as a program?
Once we get our foot into Omaha, I think that’ll really set us apart. We’ve been on the doorstep twice now, really, really close, with a couple of Super Regional appearances. Making that trip to Nebraska will really set them over the top. I’ve seen that ballpark, when I played for the Royals’ Triple-A team in Omaha. It’s an amazing facility. I think once they get that taste of it, it’s going to draw more talent to us as a school. So I think we’re on the right track — we’ve just got to push through.
And what’s next for you?
I’m going to dental school. I start in August at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, so I’m pretty excited.