Will Maddox is staying in hotels, riding from one town to another on buses and living his dream.
The former Gainesville High and University of Tennessee standout recently signed with the Detroit Tigers, after being selected in the 18th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft earlier this month. He started playing with the short-season Class A Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League last week.
“Being drafted was obviously a great privilege,” Maddox said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to play professional baseball, and this gives me that opportunity.”
Maddox had a year of eligibility remaining with the Volunteers, leaving him with a difficult decision about his future.
“It was honestly one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” Maddox said. “I didn’t think it would be such a hard decision to start playing professional baseball.
“I loved Tennessee. It was the best time of my life. I’ll never forget it.”
But the quality of the organization that picked him was hard to overlook. The Detroit Tigers have played in the American League Championship Series each of the past three seasons and won the American League Central each of those years.
Detroit also has a pair of World Series appearances, 2006 and 2012, in recent seasons. Maddox had received calls from multiple teams, including the Tigers, leading up to the draft.
“It’s just humbling that they drafted me and they feel like I can help this organization win,” Maddox said.
Maddox played second base as a freshman and junior at Tennessee and was at third base as a sophomore. He also was a second baseman for the Gainesville Red Elephants, hitting .402 with seven home runs, 39 RBIs, 34 runs and 29 stolen bases as a senior in 2011.
He continued his strong play at Tennessee, in 2012 becoming the third freshman since 1980 to lead the Volunteers in batting average (.297). Maddox also hit .297 as a junior with three homers, 21 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. He finished his Tennessee career with a .309 average and 60 stolen bases while starting 157 of 160 games.
Maddox has played first base and designated hitter while also serving as a pinch runner in his first week with the Connecticut Tigers.
He signed in Lakeland, Fla., before getting his assignment to the Norwich, Conn.-based team for which he is now playing. With the Connecticut Tigers, entering Tuesday, he was 2-for-7 with two runs scored and had also reached on an error.
The possible next stops for Maddox would be the low Class A West Michigan Whitecaps in Comstock Park, Mich., and the advanced Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers. Further up the line are the Class AA Erie (Pa.) SeaWolves and Class AAA Toledo (Ohio) Mud Hens. Maddox is hopeful his pro baseball climb is just revving up.
“Right now it’s just part of the process,” Maddox said. “You’ve just got to keep getting better every day and hope you can move up eventually.”
He said nothing has surprised him much so far thanks to Jon Mark Owings and Micah Owings sharing some of their experiences with him.
His brother, Luke, is a rising senior who plays baseball and basketball for Gainesville. Will Maddox looks forward to being able to help Luke with his game when he finishes short-season baseball. He expects Luke, who occupies his old position at second base with the Red Elephants, to have a similar opportunity to his if he decides to go with baseball as his main sport.
As he takes in various cities and aims to keep improving himself with an eye toward moving up, Will Maddox still looks back on the support of coaches and family as crucial in this pursuit.
“I just want to thank everyone along the way that’s helped me get where I am,” he said.
It’s a journey for sure, but Maddox is making sure to enjoy each step.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” he said. “I’ve loved every second of it.”