The Cinderella Kid
by Nick Papagni
In this day of endless negative news cycles, we are always searching for an uplifting story. I found one right here in Fresno.
This is a story about Maxwell Namath Schuh, now a professional baseball player. He and I crossed paths in 2003 when I got a call from Malloch Mustangs head coach Eddie Papulias. Eddie asked me to be the offensive coordinator for the Bullard Youth Football League. He told me there was a promising quarterback named Max Schuh.
At the time, Max was a 6th grader at St. Anthony's School. He was 5’1” and weighed 95 pounds. He was also left-handed, had a good arm and was accurate. He knew the assignment for every position and was fun to coach. When we would throw the football, I always thought to myself, “This kid would make an outstanding pitcher someday.”
Periodically we would bring out the mitts and it was clear this lefty had a natural movement on his ball. The Malloch Mustangs went 12-0 that year. Max established a pattern early on that his sports seasons would repeatedly end with championships. He was that player that didn't panic under pressure.
Fast forward to 2008. Max was a sophomore excelling academically at Edison High School and decided to try out for the baseball team. Head varsity baseball coach Cliff Rold decided to keep him around as a reserve outfielder. Although Max played sparingly that year, his coach saw something special in him.
"Max was a competitor and you can see he wanted to learn and get better,” Rold recalled. “With his work ethic you could tell Max was going to be successful.”
As a junior, Max also decided to play quarterback for the Tiger’s football program coached by former NFL standout and Edison alumnus Tim McDonald and assisted by current Tiger’s coach Matt Johnson. He had grown to be about 5’10” and 155 pounds but was slow and a finesse passer. It was anything but clear that he could be a contributor at a school known for producing the best and most athletic high school quarterbacks in the Valley. While he did not fit the profile of those who came before him, Max over time earned the respect of both his coaches and fellow teammates.
During his junior year in baseball, Max was moved to first base to take advantage of his great hands and fielding skills. The Tigers began their march to their first CIF Central Section Championship in school history by beating San Joaquin Memorial. The team included a number of multi-talented players, including two that were eventually drafted by Major League Baseball--Marquise Cooper in the third round by the Miami Marlins and T.J. McDonald in the third round out of USC by the St. Louis Rams. Rold says "Max was an integral part to the 2009 Valley Championship team. He was a part of the ‘dirty dozen’”--the team that changed the history of Edison baseball.
As his senior year arrived, Max finally started to grow but, more importantly, he was now a team leader.
“When the Edison Tigers are helping develop quarterbacks we are not so enamored with their physical skill set as much as we are about developing our future leaders in life, business, politics, etc.,” Matt Johnson explained.
“To put it simply, Max is the greatest CEO I've ever coached. His commander-in-chief status was unmatched and he was unwavering in his pursuit of total excellence,” Johnson continued.
“Each of his two seasons there were times when the Edison crowd unmercifully crucified him like only the Tiger Nation can. Through it all Max heard nothing because he was his own worse critic. Like a true leader he accepted his naysayers and never blinked."
That pursuit eventually translated into yet another CIF Central Section Championship. In the semi-finals the Tigers traveled to Tulare, where the Redskins never lose. Edison pulled out a last-second win with a score of 26-25. One week later, they played the Frontier Titans for the CIF title and won 23-7. But for those who recall that magical season, the season’s highlight was a Max-led, Tom Brady-like drive that resulted in a no-time-remaining, game-winning field goal against a Tulare team that had not lost a game in several years. Nobody really gave the Tigers a chance in Tulare.
After his senior year in baseball, Max decided to follow in the footsteps of his Dad and Mom, uncles, aunts and two older brothers and enrolled at UCLA, where he was an invited as a walk-on to the Bruin’s football team for two years. A coaching change lead to his being cut from the roster in the spring 2012.
While academics were always his primary focus, no sports in his life for the first time left him feeling empty. Max decided to pull his baseball cleats out of the closet after several years and begged UCLA baseball coach John Savage for a tryout as a first baseman. Trying to hit a 90 mph fastball after sitting out for quite some time fell flat and he got the “thanks for coming out kid” pat on the back.
That summer, Max came home and convinced Coach Rold to work with him daily and devise a plan to convince Coach Savage to give him a second tryout--this time as a pitcher, even though he had no experience on the mound since Little League. He had studied the UCLA baseball roster, noticed it was void of left-handers and was determined to get that second tryout and make something of it. He made enough of an impression to be asked to stick around for the team’s fall practices. Eventually, he was granted a roster spot as a left-handed specialist on the 2013 squad that won the program’s first national championship in baseball.
The number of championships in which Max played a pivotal role was now at four and spanned both high school and university sports.
Which brings us to 2014, when Max led the Pac-12 conference in pitching appearances with 37 and finished the year with a 1.55 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 29 innings. From March 7 to April 29, he did not allow an earned run in 22 consecutive appearances. Off the field, Max earned his political science degree in less than four years and was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic team with a 3.44 GPA.
Max recently landed his first post-graduation job when the Baltimore Orioles selected him with the 211th pick in the seventh round of MLB’s draft. Now a 6’5”, 210-pounder, he scarcely resembles the 5’1” Malloch Mustang he was in 2003. He is currently working his way through the Orioles farm system, playing professional baseball on the East Coast. He stands as a testament to what determination; hard work, persistence and a never-say-never attitude can turn into. He has four championship rings to prove it.
He is truly the Cinderella Kid!