In listening to Max Stagg, you have to remind yourself that he’s not a savvy 30-year-old veteran.
The Australian outfielder is as confident and well-spoken as any 19-year-old you have ever met, having earned himself plenty of opportunities to chase his baseball dream.
He credits his upbringing, preparation and passion for the game when he is asked about representing his country at the international level, or being the first Aussie to be invited to the Perfect Game National Showcase in 2022.
Stagg is bound and determined to make a name for himself in baseball while growing the game in Australia, and is seizing every opportunity including spending this summer with the Fort McMurray Giants of the Western Canadian Baseball League, where in many cases, he’s facing players two or three years older.
Through the first 30 games of the season, Stagg is hitting .309 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs, 11 runs batted in and three stolen bases.
“It’s giving me a lot of confidence going into college, where it is going to be tough and it is going to be a grind,” the Central Arizona Community College commit told Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“I think from what I’ve already shown here in the WCBL is really promising, which I guess is a credit to my preparation and the confidence I have in myself to come over here and match it with these guys who already have that experience.”
Like any young baseball player, Stagg has dreams of getting to the biggest stages in baseball, not just for himself, but for the kids back home as well.
SUCCESS DOWN UNDER
Originally getting into tee ball, Stagg quickly realized he wasn’t just good at the game, but that he loved it as well.
He was chosen to play in the U16 Australian Youth Championships in 2019 and 2020, before embarking on a whirlwind 2022 where he was played for his hometown Australian Baseball League team, the Adelaide Giants.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound outfielder also earned a Team Australia Futures Selection, won the South Australian Baseball League Finals Premiership and was named to the U19 National Junior Team.
The highlight of the year came when, as a 17-year-old, Stagg earned the invite to the Perfect Game showcase at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay.
Going up against the best prospects in North America, he found it to be an eye-opening event.
“It allowed me to contextualize myself and put myself against the top-300 high schoolers in the United States,” Stagg said. “I think that, although I may have been average or below-average at that event, what it did for me is it allowed me to come back home and know what I had to do to reach the level of those guys, now that I had seen them first-hand.”
After returning home, he spoke with his strength and conditioning coach, and immediately got into the weight room.
BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER
Stagg admits that the gym isn’t a place where you will find most Australian baseball players, as they are more likely to work on their on-field play.
Seeing the muscle-bound players at the Perfect Game showcase made him realize he needed to be better-prepared for the next time he might be in front of any scouts.
“You can always work on your body physically,” Stagg said. “You can always get bigger, stronger, faster – I think all of those different attributes and building my tools was definitely a big part of my preparation.”
Adding motivation in early-2023 was the announcement that he had been selected as the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Scholarship winner, becoming the first baseball player to receive the distinction.
That’s when he committed to Central Arizona, and really started to put his plans into action, starting with finding a home in North America to play summer collegiate baseball.
Through a series of connections, Stagg was on a flight to Alberta with the destination of Fort McMurray.
Not content on just being on the roster, he was looking to make an impact right away to help the Giants improve on their 2022 season, which saw them make the playoffs for the first time since joining the league in 2016.
“Baseball-wise, it was just all about reps,” he said. “It was about breaking down mechanical parts of my swing and building arm strength, working on the little things and fine-tuning things before I came over here.”
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
The last few months have also given Stagg another reason to keep powering forward: the chance to represent Australia on a much larger stage.
He says he watched the World Baseball Classic closely as he knew several of the players on the Australian roster, calling it surreal to see them facing MLB stars like Shohei Ohtani.
Stagg was impressed with Australia’s sixth place finish, saying it will help garner more attention for the sport in his home country and hopefully bring forward the next generation of young star players.
“We punch way above our weight,” he said.
It also inspired him to keep dreaming about taking his game to the next level, as he says he has no doubt he could be on that roster in the not-too-distant future.
“You have to have a natural self-belief in yourself in an elite sport,” he said. “If you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t believe that you can be better than other people, you really have no shot, in my opinion of being better than someone else.”
Just like fellow Australians like Grant Balfour, Liam Hendriks and Lewis Thorpe before him, the right-handed slugger would love to one day be someone the kids look up to.
“All I can do right now is keep playing baseball the right way and keep being a role model and ambassador for Baseball Australia and for the kids who play baseball back home,” Stagg said. “There are a lot of kids out there who have the same aspirations as I had of being able to travel over here and play collegiate baseball.”
Thousands of kilometres from his hometown, Max Stagg has found his passion and wants to wake up every day – “rain, hell or shine” – to live out his dream and be better than he was yesterday.