College | Story | 10/28/2021

The PG Path: Max Carlson

Craig Cozart     
Photo: Max Carlson (UNC Athletics)
“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.” - Ernie Harwell 

Perfect Game had the opportunity to catch up with former Perfect Game All-American and current University of North Carolina pitcher, Maxwell Carlson, to ask him about his experiences that have led him to where he is today. We appreciate him taking the time out of his busy schedule and hope we can all learn a few things from his path thus far in baseball and in life. 

PG: What is your first memory involving the game of baseball? 

Carlson: It was my first season of coach pitch, and I was so excited because our team was the Dodgers. We had Big League replica jerseys, and in the team picture I was wearing a pair of my older brother's hand-me-down baseball pants. They had to have been five or six sizes too big and it was all I could do just to get them to stay up. But it did not matter to me because I was just excited to get the chance to play the game...that is the perspective I try to keep to this day. 

PG:  How old were you when you first started playing “travel” baseball? 

MC: When I was 9 years old, I made the Burnsville 10u Double A team and we traveled around the state of Minnesota on the weekends playing tournaments. Because I was from a fairly small town, most of us on that team played together all the way through high school. So, we made lifelong friends and had tremendous loyalty and camaraderie.  

PG: Who were a couple of the most influential people in your baseball career as you were growing up? 

MC: The first person that comes to mind is my older brother, Samuel Carlson. He is currently pitching in the Seattle Mariners organization and watching him go through the recruiting process and navigate professional baseball has given me the blueprint to success. Also, Adam Barta, the head coach of the Minnesota Blizzard, the travel ball organization I played for most of my career had a significant impact. He started working with me as a pitcher when I was 9 years old and really developed my foundation on the mound to where I am today. 

PG: Growing up in a cold weather region like Minnesota, what were some things you did to develop yourself into one of the elite pitchers in the nation? 

MC: Well, the first thing was that from a mentality standpoint, I never allowed myself to look at living up north as a disadvantage. Sure, it brought certain challenges but playing in the cold demanded that I have a tougher mentality and not allow weather conditions to be a deterrent to peak performance. Pitching wise, I had to do most of my throwing program indoors, so I had to teach myself the angles and intensities I should work at while throwing into a net rather than being out on a field where I could see the flight of the ball. 

PG: When you hear the words, Perfect Game Baseball, what is the first thing that comes to mind? 

MC: Petco Park! I had such an amazing experience as a Perfect Game All-American! Other than that, just the most competitive baseball events around. 

PG: How old were you when you played in your first Perfect Game event and where was it? 

MC: I was 13 years old and playing up with one of the older Minnesota Blizzard teams in Phoenix, Ariz. I can distinctly remember walking into the venue and looking around and just being amazed at how big all the players on the other teams seemed to be. Having that opportunity at an early age and knowing I had to step up to the plate and perform was very impactful for me and the rest of my career. 

PG: What is your all-time favorite PG venue and why? 

MC: Without a doubt, it was Petco Park, not only because it was a Big League stadium, and I was an All-American, but because of the crowd size. Being from Minnesota I was never exposed to playing in front of such a large crowd and that was important exposure for me to learn to control my emotions in a big-time situation. 

PG: What was your favorite memory from a team standpoint in a Perfect Game event? 

MC: In the fall of my senior year, I played some events with the Evoshield Canes organization, and we won one of the main WWBA events in Phoenix, Ariz. that fall. It is so difficult at that level to win a PG event because the competition is so intense. I just remember the last out of the championship game; us dogpiling on the field and what a rush of adrenaline that moment was for the team. 

PG: From an individual standpoint, what was your best performance or fondest memory on the mound? 

MC: It has to be when I was in high school, and we were in the sectional semifinals. We had to win twice in a row against the same team in order to advance. I started the first game and my brother, Sam, closed it for the victory in game 1. Sam then proceeded to start game 2 and we went on to win that game as well and play for the state championship. 

PG: Do you feel like Perfect Game as organization had an impact on your career, your opportunity to be recruited and be considered for the MLB Draft? 

MC: Without a doubt, coming from a small town in Minnesota, without the platform that Perfect Game creates for us to compete in the game, I am not sure where I would have ended up in my career. The credibility that PG events carry draws so many college and professional scouts that it gives prospects from anywhere to get valuable exposure. 

PG:  Being a Perfect Game All-American, what does that mean to you to this day? 

MC: It is a very fond memory in my mind, but it does not define me as a person or a player. I am still just Max Carlson from Minnesota, and I will never lose that perspective. It was a great honor and nice to be recognized for my talent to that point but that does not mean success is guaranteed in the future. If anything, it means you must work that much harder and continue the journey of becoming the best player and person I can possibly be going forward. 

PG: Based on all you have been through, what advice would you have for younger players who are getting ready to or are in the middle of the recruiting process? 

MC: I would say, do not get too far ahead of yourself and be realistic. In other words, make the process happen on your timeline and do not let things speed up if you are not comfortable with it. Also, when I say be realistic, I mean explore all options. Even if you are determined to be a Division-I baseball player, see what the JUCO or D-II schools have to offer and have to say. You will be happiest where you are seeing the field and getting in the lineup. 

PG: Playing collegiately at the University of North Carolina, why did you choose to become a Tarheel? 

MC: An important thing in my recruiting process was finding a place where I could live, and it would feel like home to me. That is what I feel here in Chapel Hill, and I love it here and if I could go back, I would not change a thing. 

PG: What is the best part about being a member of the UNC baseball team and how have you grown as an individual? 

MC: First and foremost, I would say I have learned to manage my time more effectively and being punctual. I have learned to have my priorities in order, and I feel like I have become much more of a well-rounded person. From a team standpoint, the best part is the chemistry of the team and the lifelong friendships I have already developed. 

PG: What has been the biggest challenge in your career thus far and what could young players learn from your experience? 

MC: DO YOUR ARM CARE! I was always dedicated to my arm care, but I did have to have elbow surgery in May of 2021. I did get my toes wet early last spring with the Tarheels but that ended abruptly with the elbow injury. So, that has been a real challenge, but I am well taken care of here and I know I will be back and full-go shortly. Take care of your bodies and work hard in all aspects of strength and conditioning and arm maintenance. 

PG: Most baseball players are very routine oriented and have superstitions. Do you have any interesting routines, go-to pregame meals or superstitions? 

MC: I do not necessarily have any superstitions, that’s kind of lame but that is just the way it is. Pregame meals, they feed us really well here and I just take whatever they have out for the pregame spread. However, my favorite would be when they give us Tropical Smoothie, so that could be my go-to meal. 

PG: Last question here, now that you have had a wide array of baseball experience, what do you know now that you wish you would have known back when you were a younger player? 

MC: Do not take it too seriously, you need to have fun playing the game. Not that you do not care if you win or lose but I wish I had reminded myself to enjoy the moments a little more. This game provides us with so many unique sights and sounds that you have to be able to step back and genuinely appreciate the moments. Hopefully, I will be fortunate enough to make a career out of playing this great game, so we will see what is in store for me down the road. 
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