TAMPA, Fla. – During spring training, despite fighting a cold that sidelined him for a few days, Addison Maruszak was a man others could count on.
Being that he lives in nearby Pinellas Park, just over the Howard Frankland Bridge, Maruszak could tell his teammates where the best beach or best pizza is in the general area.
On the field, if the team needed a catcher, infielder or outfielder, he could fill just about any spot.
“When I think of it, it’s fun, but I can play any position except pitcher,’’ said Maruszak, 24, who learned the rudiments of catching during recent Instructional League play. “I like the utility role, and think it’s the way to go to get to the majors.
“If you can get to the big leagues, and hit, they’ll make a spot for you.’’
A solid 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Maruszak is literally at home during spring training, having starred scholastically at St. Petersburg Catholic High and earning Big East Rookie of the Year honors at the University of South Florida, just a hop, skip and jump from the Yankees’ Minor League Complex.
After being selected by the Yankees in the 17th round of the 2008 draft, Maruszak burst onto the scene with a stellar season at Staten Island, batting .317 (53-for-167) and earning New York-Penn League All-Star honors.
The only chink in his armor that year was a sprained right knee that ended his season a few weeks early.
He jumped to Tampa to start 2009, and with the ability to play every infield and outfield position, appeared a candidate to jump on the fast track. However, after struggling in 24 games with the T-Yanks, batting just .148 (12-for-81) and not playing well in the field, he was sent back to Charleston, where he batted .263 (57-for 217).
Something just wasn’t clicking, and it turned out to be his vision. Maruszak had that corrected with a laser procedure, and his batting eye returned in 2010. After a two-game stint in the Gulf Coast League, he hit .287 (72-for-251) at Tampa.
Again the only chink was a sprained right ankle that sidelined him from June 17-Aug. 4.
“I’m certainly looking to stay healthy this season, and I’m looking forward to having a good year. The laser correction has really helped. I’m seeing the ball a lot better.’’
While Maruszak is aiming at a spot with the Thunder, he is concentrating on mastering the tools of ignorance behind the plate.
“I’m enjoying learning what I need to, and feel I’ll be able to help whatever team I’m with when I am back there. All I can do is go out and play as good as I can. Wherever they put me, move me up, move me down, is up to them.’’
Thunder manager Tony Franklin had fun with Maruszak, stationing him at catcher in one game, at shortstop in another and in the outfield for part of another. Had the cold not knocked him out for a few days, other assignments would have followed.
“He’s an interesting player,’’ said Franklin. “He seems comfortable at just about any position.’’
Maruszak knows the system, and has devised a strategy to work with it, giving him more of the control.
“What I really want to do is keep playing better and better, force their hands in moving me. Let them have to give me a promotion.’’
He enjoyed playing in Staten Island a few summers ago, getting a taste of the Northeast. He also feels he’d enjoy playing in Trenton.
“I hear the crowds are great and it’s a fun place to play,’’ said Maruszak. “You bet I like to play in front of big crowds.
Chances are he’ll be doing just that in 2011.
This story concludes BaseLines’ series of spring-training reports from its annual trip to the Thunder spring-training camp in Tampa, Fla. On deck for next week is an Eastern League preview. Comments are welcomed below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @jedleyq.