Cary couple Max and Sarah Schrock are embracing the game while it lasts
BY KURT DUSTERBERG
Max and Sarah Schrock are like many young parents. Much of their time is spent managing a routine for their 9-month-old daughter, Scarlett. The Schrocks’ parents and other family live nearby, so they host weekly dinners and get-togethers at their Cary home. For most of the fall and winter months, it’s a stable life. But when February comes each year, upheaval becomes the norm.
Max Schrock is a professional baseball player. This year, the 28-year-old infielder/outfielder signed with the San Diego Padres, his fifth organization. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals out of the University of South Carolina in 2015, but in the middle of the following season, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics.
By the time summer of 2016 was over, he had played for minor league teams in Hagerstown, Maryland; Woodbridge, Virginia; Stockton, California; and Midland, Texas. “With how much I’ve moved around, there was something in the back of my mind, like, what if I had stayed with my first organization that had invested the money into me,” Max says. “I figured out really quick that baseball is a business, and it’s run like a business.”
Where It All Began
Sarah is telling the story of how she and Max met in high school, but her account is coming out in bits and pieces. She continually climbs off the living room floor to retrieve Scarlett, who has a knack for escaping to the dining room on all fours. “We met in the parking lot at Cardinal Gibbons [High School],” she says. “We dated, talked, whatever you want to call it in high school for a couple of months, but then we broke up for the rest of my senior year.”
Sarah headed off to college at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, where she played soccer for two years. Max, a year behind Sarah in school, accepted a baseball scholarship. They reconnected a year later at Christmas, and Sarah ended up transferring to the University of South Carolina.
Once Max was drafted, the odyssey began. Sarah went along in 2016, experiencing the twists and turns that began with the trade from the Washington Nationals and assignment to Stockton.
“When I heard he was traded to Oakland, all I could think was, California,” she says. “He’s on a totally different side of the country. I had to go back to school in August to finish my last semester. That was the first big shock in baseball—that anything can change in 24 hours.”
Max and Sarah married in January 2018, just one month after Max was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was assigned to the AAA Memphis Redbirds, just one step from the major leagues. “That was the worst season I ever had,” he says. “It was all about me putting way too much pressure on myself. The carrot is dangling right in front of your eyes. I was 23 at the time. I started trying to do things I wasn’t good at. That’s the hardest thing about playing in AAA, is being that close and knowing your dream is right there at your fingertips.”
A Major Break
After two seasons in Memphis, Max made his major league debut with the Cardinals in 2020. Baseball looked a bit different that summer with empty stadiums due to COVID-19, but it was a rash of coronavirus cases that ended up providing his opportunity. “When I was called up, it was because half of the Cardinals team got COVID,” he says. “They needed bodies.”
He struck out in his first at bat against the Chicago White Sox, but his debut quickly took a turn for the better. “My first hit was my second at bat. I hit a lazy fly ball that I think was in the air for what felt like 10 seconds,” he says. “The whole time, I’m like, ‘please fall, please fall, please fall.’ I was saying it out loud as I was running to first base. When it fell, it was kind of a relief. My third at bat, I hit a line drive, ground ball up the middle.”
Max signed with the Cincinnati Reds for 2021, where he split time between the AAA Louisville Bats and Cincinnati. Shuttling between the two nearby cities was manageable for Max, but call-ups presented a problem for Sarah, who was working out of their Louisville apartment as a mortgage loan processor. “I couldn’t work out of the hotel in Cincinnati,” she explains. “So as soon as my day ended at 5 p.m. in Louisville, I headed straight to his game in Cincinnati to be there at 7 p.m. Then I would wake up at 5 a.m. to get back and be online in Louisville.”
Max understood his wife’s dilemma. “I felt terrible,” he says. “I kept saying, if I’m not in the lineup, don’t worry about coming, but she didn’t want to miss if I was pinch hitting.”
Even though Max was playing well in his first extended major league action, he was not an everyday starter, so his hold on a roster spot was tenuous.
Sarah remembers thinking, “I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to watch you do this, so I’m coming.” That outlook proved prescient in 2022. Told he would start the season in Cincinnati, Max strained his calf with two games left in the exhibition season and missed three months.
With no baseball on the horizon, Sarah headed back to North Carolina for the last weeks of her pregnancy. Just a few weeks later, after a long day of rehab in Cincinnati, Max heard his phone buzz. “My head had just hit the pillow,” he recalls. “She says, ‘Hey, my water just broke.’ So I got in the car and I drove home [to Cary] from Cincinnati on no sleep overnight.”
Once his season resumed, he had a hard time gaining traction. Finally healthy and playing for Louisville, Schrock fouled a ball off his kneecap and broke it. He played just 13 games for the Reds and 20 for Louisville.
So what can Max expect from a season in the Padres’ organization? More ups and downs, this time between the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas and San Diego. In his ninth year of professional baseball, Schrock knows what he is up against. Young prospects fill the major league pipeline each year. There are precious few opportunities for utility players who are pushing 30.
“When I was drafted, the goal was to play in the major leagues as long as I can,” he says. “If my career ended tomorrow, I think I would be OK. I would be able to hang my hat on the career I’ve had, knowing I left everything out there. There are still things that I strive for and want to achieve in the game. But I don’t live, breathe and sleep baseball. I would not say that is my identity. My whole life is my wife and my daughter and my family.”
SCHROCK’S FINEST MOMENT? GIMME FIVE!
In his 77 major league games, Max Schrock has had some special moments. He went 2-for-3 in his first game, hit his first home run in his third game and even pitched in four games. But August 1, 2021 might be hard to top.
CincinnatI was playing at the New York Mets, and he was penciled into the lineup at first base to give Reds legend Joey Votto a day off. The circumstances were not ideal. Schrock had played first base only a handful of times as a professional, and he struggled getting ready for the game.
“It had to have been the absolute worst batting practice I have ever taken,” he remembers. “I don’t know if I got a ball out of the infield.”
But he singled in the first inning, then followed up with a home run in third. After another single to left in the sixth inning, he knew something special was happening. Schrock remembers, “Our first base coach, Delino DeShields, slapped me on the butt and said, ‘We not done today, baby!’”
By the time the Reds wrapped up a 7–1 win, Max had gone 5-for-5. And where was Sarah that day? Getting ready to meet Max on the road. “My parents and his parents all went to MacGregor Draft House,” she says. “We were all watching the game before I had to be driven to the airport. So I wasn’t there, but I was with the next best thing—my family and his family. We were having so much fun cheering him on. We were like, ‘Did he just do that?’”
Not bad for a day that didn’t look very promising. “I thought, maybe I can figure out how to just get one hit,” he says. “When I got that fifth one, it was like, yeah, I did it.”
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