His coaches say Adam Maier is a quietly confident athlete anytime he plays, but there was something a little bit extra when the 17-year-old stepped on the mound to pitch for the North Shore Twins May 29.
The Carson Graham Grade 12 student had just returned from a two-week stint with the junior national team, joining the squad for a series of games against Major League prospects in the Dominican Republic. Coming back for a Twins start on the road against the always powerful Langley Blaze, Maier was still feeling some shine from the stint with Team Canada.
“I had a little bit of a confidence booster, a little bit of swagger going into that game,” he says. Seven innings later, Maier had locked down one of the rarest feats you’ll ever see on a baseball field: a perfect game.
Maier faced 21 batters in the game, and retired 21 batters, 11 by strikeout in a dominant performance against a powerhouse lineup.
“We were all speechless,” says Twins former head coach and current pitching coach Brooks McNiven, who has been working with Maier throughout his five-year career with the Twins organization. “We didn’t really know what to say. … We all left the field that day feeling pretty fortunate to have the opportunity to watch him pitch.”
McNiven, a star pitcher in his own right who played pro ball and pitched for Team Canada, says he’d never before seen a perfect game live. But he wasn’t at all surprised to see dominance from Maier.
The North Vancouver native started playing baseball for North Van Central Little League when he was nine years old, and caught on with the Twins when he was in Grade 8, moving up through the ranks from bantam to junior to senior. Maier says he owes his success to the team.
“They kind of raised me from the ground up,” he says. “They built me. I’m a product of the Twins organization. It’s a very well-respected organization – I don’t think I’d be where I am today if they weren’t supporting me along the journey.”
Maier is approximately six feet tall and doesn’t look overly imposing at first glance, but batters sure take notice when he starts to throw, says McNiven.
“He’s a little bit unassuming, but when he gets up on the mound, his stuff is incredible,” he says. “The thing that makes him really effective is the incredible amounts of movement he gets on his pitches. He throws a nasty two-seam and he’s got excellent breaking pitches, both a curveball and a cutter or slider, whatever he wants to call it. And a great changeup as well. All of them have great movement on them, and he has incredible command of his four pitches, which makes it really difficult for anybody to hit.”
Nearly impossible to hit, it seems, at least in the BC Premier Baseball League. Through 32 inning this year Maier has given up just 10 hits and six walks while striking out 51. He has also allowed zero earned runs. Yes, his season-long ERA is 0.00.
“You see a lot of swing and misses,” says McNiven. “He just makes guys look foolish because they get a read on the ball out of his hand, and by the time it gets to the plate it’s not where it’s supposed to be – it’s sunk or cut or whatever, and the guys miss it by a lot.”
Everything was working on the day of the perfect game. McNiven says he usually tells the catcher what pitches to call at times during Twins games, but by the middle of the perfect game he took his hands off the wheel and let Maier and catcher Ben Columbus take care of the rest.
“I just decided I’m not touching this thing, I don’t want to be responsible for messing this thing up,” he says with a laugh. “I just pulled back and watched the magic unfold. (Adam) and Ben Columbus were excellent together that day. It just worked.”
There were some tense moments. In the fourth inning a Langley batter smashed a swinging bunt in front of home plate, forcing Columbus to jump into action for a tough throw from catcher to first base. Third baseman Hilo Yamamoto also handled some hot shots, making some nice picks and throws for outs. But a lot of the outs were registered solely by Maier’s right arm.
“There were guys who would swing and miss by a foot,” says McNiven. “Everything was working that day. The movement on his changeup especially was outstanding, his other breaking pitches as well.”
Finally Maier was down to his final out.
“As a coach, coaching in provincial championships and things like that, I was more nervous for this game than I was playing in the provincial final,” says McNiven. “Everybody on the field knew exactly what was happening. They were all giving everything they had to make the outs and help Adam out and get through that game.”
Maier, however, kept the swagger going all game long.
“When it got to two outs I kind of felt a bit of an adrenaline rush,” he says. “But I wasn’t nervous or anything.”
He threw a slider that the batter popped up. First baseman Damon Hutchings made the catch, and that was it. Perfecto.
The Twins rushed their pitcher in a raucous celebration.
“It was outstanding, especially to do it against one of the top-hitting teams in the league,” says McNiven. “Langley is very good – to do it against them is remarkable.”
The Twins will try to keep the good times rolling as they chase another BCPBL title, and beyond that, Maier is signed up to study kinesiology at UBC and play ball for the Thunderbirds next season. He also happens to be one of the best hitters in the BCPBL, and it’s a testament to his talent that the Thunderbirds still aren’t sure whether to bring Maier in as a pitcher or a hitter, says McNiven. Performances like his perfect game, however, show the potential he has on the mound.
“He’s the ace of our staff, he’s our team leader, team captain and it shows when he goes out there and does things like that,” says McNiven. “He’s got everything. He’s a bulldog out there. He’s a competitor – he expects the best out of himself and he goes out there and you get everything he’s got on a daily basis.”
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The Blaze will have a chance to get back at the Twins this Sunday during a double header taking place at North Vancouver’s Parkgate Park. Start times are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.