Few things in life are more uplifting than being around people who love what they do.
Hooks catcher Max Stassi reminds me of a college pitcher I once knew named Smilin' Jimmie Cherry.
Jimmie pitched at Houston when I was an undergrad there in the late 1970s. The former Baytown Sterling star always had a smile on his face, like he knew something the rest of us didn't. You could see it from the press box when he was on the mound. The only time I saw Jimmie in a foul mood was in the wake of a dispute his girlfriend had with Longhorn fans at a Cougars-University of Texas game in Austin.
In temperament and at the plate, Stassi resembles Todd Greene, a four-time All-American outfielder at Georgia Southern during the early '90s. Todd was converted to catcher after being drafted by the Angels in 1993 and went on to play 11 major league seasons with six different ball clubs. He's now a special assistant to Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers.
Like Cherry, Stassi seems to always smile. Hooks broadcaster Michael Coffin noted the perpetual expression in May, as former UH baseball voice Mark Seegers had tabbed Cherry "Smilin' Jimmie" 35 years earlier.
Like Greene, Stassi is fueled by enthusiasm, positivity and a passion for the game.
"I refuse to be around negative people," Greene once said. The amazing thing… he was 21 when he said it.
"That attitude comes from my parents," Stassi explained. "They just always taught us to enjoy life. Each day my mom sends me an inspirational quote. She's encouraged me to stay around and sign autographs for the fans, to treat people the way I want to be treated."
Stassi, too, understands the importance of who he runs with.
"I just surround myself with good people. I don't associate with people who are negative or do the wrong things. I have a strong support system with my family and friends and I stay with them."
His tight-knit family has a deeply-rooted faith in God and is steeped in baseball. Father Jim reached Triple-A Phoenix in the Giants system after playing collegiately at Nevada, where he was a two-year captain. He coached Max and his brothers at Yuba City (Calif.) High School. Jim's father and uncle, Bob and Sam Stassi, played professionally and great uncle Myril Hoag was a three-time world champion outfielder for the New York Yankees in eight seasons with the Bronx Bombers (1931-38).
Both Jim and Bob caught, but there was no pressure to catch - or even play baseball - during Max's childhood.
"Dad never forced us to play any sports. It was up to us," he recalled. "We were never forced into anything. We played basketball, football, soccer, did a lot of things. It wasn't a typical coach's home."
There's no doubt wisdom in such an approach, exposing your children to a variety of activities without forcing them. It's paid off for Coach Stassi and wife Racquelle, who in addition to Max have Brock, a first baseman-outfielder with the Clearwater Phillies and Jake, a left-handed pitcher entering his senior year at Long Beach State.
But love catching Max does. After all, it's the only position on the diamond where the whole field is your backdrop.
"I'm involved in everything - pitch calling, throwing, receiving, calling defenses. There's a lot to handle but I enjoy it. I try to make the most of it every day."
And not just behind the plate. He does it everywhere he goes, from making eye contact and dialoguing with most everyone he meets to discussing classical composers in a training room conversation about working hard and never giving up to reading "Baseball's 6th Tool - The Inner Game," a book by Phillies psychologist Dr. Jack Curtis recommended by Brock.
Oh, and about the most productive month for a slugger in Hooks history, a July for which he earned TOPPS Texas League Player of the Month, hitting .333 with 17 runs, four doubles, one triple, 11 home runs (10 which came in a 15-game span) and 24 RBIs in 24 games?
"I was just going out there playing with confidence every day. Playing every day and having fun. Keith (Hooks manager Bodie) has helped me out in many aspects of the game. I'm very thankful to have him teach me the right way to play the game."
Stassi homered in a franchise-record five straight contests. On June 26 at Whataburger Field he tied a club record with eight RBIs against Springfield.
He didn't become part of the Astros organization until February. The Athletics packaged their 2009 fourth-round draft choice with Chris Carter and right-hander Brad Peacock to Houston for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez in an intradivision deal. That's the way baseball works. After all, Stassi committed to UCLA before passing on the Bruins' scholarship offer to ink with Oakland.
"My goal was to play professionally and I figured why not take the opportunity to make an early start?"
So, whether he's making decisions or decisions are being made for him, Max Stassi will take things in stride. Nothing's going to break his.
And, he'll have a smile on his face.