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How a decade of sacrifice and resilience earned North Harford graduate JT Maguire a shot in Major League Baseball

JT Maguire slumped into his worn-out mattress on the floor of a Wofford College dorm. He was four jobs removed from graduation, bunking like a college kid working as a volunteer assistant baseball coach, asking himself if he chose the right path.

Is this lifestyle sustainable? Am I ever going to be able to retire one day? Am I ever going to own a house or get married?

He was in his 20s living off ramen noodles and driving a run-down 2004 Volkswagen Jetta while his peers took fancy cars to cushy jobs. Maguire even passed on dates because baseball, despite giving him exposure, wasn’t paying enough — if anything. He missed weddings, funerals, holidays and every family gathering in between.

Baseball took precedence. He had a dream and refused to lose sight of it.

Maguire sat outside Camden Yards’ visiting team clubhouse before the middle outing of a recent three-game homecoming series for him, ruminating on a more than decade-long sacrifice to get to this year: his first as a major league outfield coach for the Cleveland Guardians.

“I always reflect back on the harder times,” he said. “Times where you kind of want to give up and get a job to make money and start a life. I didn’t have the time or the freedom or the money to go do things that my friends were doing. … It made me more absorbed into the game.”

Baseball entranced a young Maguire growing up in Jarrettsville, first introduced by his father, Jim Jr., and grandfather, Jim Sr. The family backyard morphed into their ballpark, a space for JT and his younger brothers, Tyler and Brady, to play wiffle ball until the sun went down. He was hooked.

JT later starred at North Harford High School under coach Tim Larrimore, who led the Hawks for 31 years before stepping down after the 2021 season. He graduated in 2004 to play at Delaware Tech junior college then finished his physical education degree at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, a Division II program in North Carolina.

That’s where he met Jim Blair, who first floated the idea of a career in coaching. Blair warned Maguire of the sacrifices that might accompany his choice. But he also noticed something that Maguire didn’t yet see in himself.

“The way that he was as a coach — he was a player’s coach and a very calming person,” Maguire recalled. “He said, ‘Hey, I kind of see similarities in you and myself. I think that you have a good eye for the game. Maybe [coaching] is something that you should pursue.’”

‘Just a launching pad’

Thirteen years ago, Maguire got his first coaching gig. George Cooper gave him a shot as an assistant for The Park School of Baltimore, far better known for academics than athletics.

Now clad head to toe in Guardians gear, he smirked, “I can distinctly remember that first practice.”

They were drilling routine fly balls. Maguir lofted one deep to right field that plummeted down, missing the kid’s outstretched glove and smacking him squarely in the face. “We developed the crap out of them,” he said, which would come to define his coaching body of work.

Maguire’s first and only season at Park was 2010, when it won the program’s only Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association conference championship. Success followed him to the next stop, assisting Larrimore at North Harford in 2012. He helped a team that included his brother, Brady, make an appearance in the state final.

“Once I knew that he was interested, it was a given to bring him on,” Larrimore said. “He was very serious about the game and putting in the time to get better. … I knew right from the beginning that he was going to make us a much better team.”

Kevin Mooney can attest. He was a senior pitcher for the Hawks with a front-row seat to Maguire’s approach. Mooney, who went on to pitch at Maryland, lauded the new coach’s energy and expertise. In hindsight, he could tell Maguire was destined for greater heights.

“That was always just a launching pad for him,” Mooney said.

Maguire became a coaching nomad of sorts. He left North Harford to coach at Harford Community College, Wofford and Lander University in two-year stints from 2013 to 2018. Those years, making little money coaching tons of baseball, tested his resolve. His reason to keep going: Seeing his players move up the ranks was a high he couldn’t reach anywhere else.

Ben Brewster was the first player to do so under his tutelage at Park. Brewster went on to play at Maryland before getting drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2014. Maguire continued to chase that feeling.

It fueled his advancement to the college ranks and meteoric rise within the Guardians organization. JT debuted as a bench coach for the rookie club in 2019. He then coached at the major league alternate training site during the throws of the pandemic before moving up to a bench role with Triple-A Columbus in 2021. Last year he oversaw outfielders and baserunning throughout the organization.

Fruits of his labor

Maguire constantly looks for ways to better his craft. He used to jot notes from American Baseball Coaches Association conferences, accumulating teaching fodder to implement with his college teams. He and a buddy, Kainoa Correa, who now coaches for San Francisco, began tweeting their own catalog of skills and drills. Correa took the infield, Maguire handled the outfield, which he termed a lesser-discussed space.

Then the ABCA asked JT to speak on its small stage. Nothing crazy for the then-Lander assistant. A year later, he joined Cleveland’s organization and was poached to try the main stage in Nashville, Tennessee, on Outfield Play: The Development and Evolution of the Forgotten Position.

That meant 10,000 spectators.

Maguire is soft-spoken. Fairly reserved, too. If he’s not on a diamond, he’s far from civilization, camping or hiking alongside his girlfriend, Kat Murphy, and their dog, Cleat. JT is also methodical in explaining what he knows best but never quick to divulge anything not exhaustively thought out.

As a player, Maguire showed up early to practices, having his dad whack balls off the fence so, like Hall of Fame basketball player Dennis Rodman with rebounding angles, he could study patterns of the ball’s ricochet. Jim remembers when JT started with Cleveland. The two sat in front of the TV for hours at a time poring over a single swing. “He was explaining stuff I had never even thought of.”

Naturally, preparing for the ABCA consumed his summer, JT was a nervous wreck. He neatly arranged his slideshow, prepared videos and rehearsed his speech alone in the basement.

“JT is not a public speaker at all,” Diane said. “People always say, ‘Pretend that everybody in the audience is in their underwear.’ We didn’t do that. We just said, ‘Go talk about what you know.’”

What JT knows is baseball. And that lecture — advocating for what’s called the pro-step approach and outlining his tedious drill work — was a springboard for his recognition.

Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan prospered through JT’s teachings, progressing from short-season Mahoning Valley through the minors and eventually to the big league team. Kwan was drafted in 2018 out of Oregon State. He said in college the position can be more simplistic — as in, just get to the ball. Maguire offered more nuance.

“He restructured how I throw and my glove location on a ground ball,” Kwan said, who last year became the second Cleveland rookie ever to win a Gold Glove. “He made me really think about all those things and he had the evidence to back it up.

“He’s not super aggressive with it. He sort of tries to lead you to the answer and asks you what you’re thinking and if nothing comes up, he’ll suggest something and see if you like it or not. Then he’ll present the evidence and show the videos and compare it to what we were saying.”

When Kyle Hudson left his post as the Guardians outfield coach for a job with the Boston Red Sox, Maguire was a logical replacement. But the process still left him on pins and needles. Then the phone rang. It was January and he was working a minor league camp in Arizona. The cathartic news of a promotion on the other end still rings in his head.

Maguire slumped back against a four-wheel drive gator in the blazing southwestern heat, reveling in the euphoric emotion of knowing, yes, he chose the right path.

“He watched his friends get married and have kids and succeed in life and have jobs,” Murphy said. “He told me about the times sitting on a mattress on the floor in a college dorm thinking, ‘What the heck am I doing? I’m missing out on life.’ … It’s a commitment level that I think a lot of people don’t have and don’t understand. Knowing where he came from to where he is now, he’s so grateful.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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