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Cleburne's Max Grumbles living out dream as Yellow Jacket pitcher

Cleburne Times-Review - 3/16/2019

March 15-- Mar. 15--Growing up, Max Grumbles had a goal to pitch for the Cleburne Yellow Jackets. Not only has Grumbles, diagnosed with autism at 4 years old, accomplished that lifelong goal, but he's performed well on the mound for Cleburne this season.

Through the first three-plus weeks of the 2019 baseball season, Grumbles has put together a 2-0 record with a 1.62 ERA as one of seven pitchers to take the mound for Cleburne.

"He's probably already thrown about 10 more innings than he thought he was going to get to throw all year," Cleburne Coach Ross Taylor said. "He's really done a good job."

Grumbles came up through the Cleburne Baseball and Softball Association and has been in the Yellow Jackets' baseball program since his freshman year, pitching for the freshman and junior varsity teams. And as a senior this year, Grumbles has seen his dream come true of taking the mound as a varsity pitcher for the state-ranked Jackets.

"He would always tell me, 'Dad, one day I'm going to be on the mound and pitch for the Jackets,'" said Jimmy Grumbles, Max's father. "And here he is -- walking on the mound for one of the top-ranked schools in the state and being successful. It's crazy. I'm overwhelmed. I can't put into words the level of pride I feel watching him go out to the mound and be successful.

"All the hard work and late nights since he was 5 years old paid off. There were times I felt like giving up but he kept pushing me, 'No, we've got to keep going.' We set up big lights in the driveway so he could work until it was well after dark. We tied a tire between two trees when he was 6 years old and he'd sit out there all day long trying to throw the ball in the tire."

When Max was 4 years old, he had a vocabulary of only 20 words, according to his mother, Alicia Grumbles.

"You should be talking in full sentences and having conversations by then," she said. "His conversation was pointing at the ball and saying 'ball.' That's basically where he was at. So we went to the Child Study Center in Fort Worth and they diagnosed him with Asperger's. In the end, it's all on the autism spectrum. Sensory issues -- hair cuts, water, physical contact -- bother him. And he sees everything very black and white."

Max has overcome numerous everyday challenges that comes with autism, but he still battles certain aspects of everyday life at times. Yet, through it all, he's found ways to still experience life like anyone else would, his family said.

"We're very proud," Alicia Grumbles said. "In the time after we got the diagnosis, we were upset because we believed he would never get to experience things in life the way everyone else does. We were upset that he would be limited and it seemed like he would be locked away in his own little world forever, not interacting with others.

"It took time and a lot of work but with the help of the special education department at CISD, family and friends, and ultimately coaches, we feel like he is getting to experience everything, just in his own way. He's worked harder than anyone else I know just to interact with others and do the normal things we all take for granted, but he does them. He will always be autistic but he doesn't let it stop him. He's my hero."

Max's sister, Preslie Grumbles, said he is the bravest person she knows.

"Autism in no way has defined Max," Preslie Grumbles said. "It's just something he has and it's something that's made him stronger, but it is not who he is. I think he's the bravest kid in the world. He's strong and he's dedicated and he's hard-working and he's passionate. I don't think that's autism; I think that's who Max is. To watch him from when he was a little kid to the man he is now, it's been incredible. He's opened up in so many different ways. He's just a really talented and really hard-working kid."

And baseball has been a huge help for Max as well as a lifelong passion.

"Baseball, specifically, is a passion for him," Alicia Grumbles said. "One of the things that autistic kids tend to do is focus on something specific. When he was younger, it was focusing on trains and lining up cars. While some of that persisted for a while, once he latched onto baseball, he's never let go. He's got books on baseball and he has however many Cleburne hats.

"Baseball is teaching him life lessons. He's learning discipline, how to be a part of a team, how to contribute, and how to look at things not from a selfish point of view but that it's good working with others."

Max has appeared in three games for the Jackets, including a moment that will last a lifetime for the Grumbles family when he threw a no-hitter against Fort Worth Poly in a 15-0 win in three innings on March 1.

"I think I held my breath the entire game," Alicia Grumbles said. "We were ecstatic. I couldn't believe it happened. That's a memory we will have forever. It was a total confidence booster. [Afterwards] he was pumping fists in the air. He was so excited. He talked about it for days."

"He came in the house after the game and he was trying to figure it out since he only went three innings, and we were like, 'Max, a no-hitter's a no-hitter and you pitched a complete game,'" Jimmy Grumbles said. "He absorbed it all and immediately started talking to his sister and family members. His confidence is just through the roof right now. I think his sense of pride in himself is awesome. He lives and breathes this sport. This baseball program has taken him out of his shell. For him to get in there and throw a no-hitter with his peers and family watching and people listening on the radio, it's incredible."

Currently attending the University of Texas (and on track to graduate this year with a degree in psychology), Preslie Grumbles was unable to witness her brother's no-hitter in person, but when she received news of Max's feat, she said she couldn't have been more proud.

"He was so happy; it was wonderful," said Preslie Grumbles, 2015 salutatorian for CHS. "As his older sister, when he does amazing things like that, it makes me feel really proud. He's an incredible kid and he's worked really hard for this. To be honest, I don't know anything about baseball, but the no-hitter wasn't a fluke. Max works his butt off and so for him to get a taste of that and to feel the rewards of working so hard, I celebrate with him."

Taylor said Max has been a welcome addition to the varsity locker room and dugout in addition to performing well when given the chance.

"I don't really understand how severe [his diagnosis] is, I just know around us he's sociable, he's on time and he does everything we've asked him to do," Taylor said. "It's been fun to see him have some success pitching this year. I don't care who it was against, he went out in a varsity ball game and he's thrown some scoreless innings and has thrown strikes. That's what is important to our team.

"He's been around so long that the guys really don't even notice that he's got [autism]. He doesn't say a whole lot. He shows up and does what he's supposed to do. I think being in athletics has helped him be more social."

Alicia Grumbles said hearing Taylor share those words about her son is a dream come true.

"He's come an incredibly long way," Alicia Grumbles said. "Hearing from Coach Taylor that he's doing everything they've asked him is huge. Coach Taylor has quite a number of kids and pitchers to choose from. It would be very easy for him to dismiss Max because he doesn't talk as much as the other kids do. We've seen coaches lose patience with him in the past, not because of what he's doing, just because they're not able to understand him. What Coach Taylor does is he sets an expectation and you rise to it or you don't, and Max has risen to it. To hear Coach Taylor say that Max is doing everything they've asked him to do, that's perfect to us. That's what we want and that's what we've worked for."

Additionally, Alicia Grumbles said Taylor and his coaching staff have played a significant role in Max's growth.

"I think the coaches have been just as integral as the therapists that he's had in him getting to the point he is now," Alicia Grumbles said. "They're therapists just as much as the state therapists and everybody else. They just do it in a different way. They teach him different lessons, but in the end he's going to be ready for life because of them."

At one point, the Grumbles weren't sure if these moments and opportunities would ever come for Max.

"We were wondering if it was too much to hope for," Alicia Grumbles said. "He worked so hard for so long but would it really turn into an opportunity? We're ecstatic that he's getting to pitch and that he's doing really well with it. He seems to, in my mind, have relaxed this year."

With district play approaching this week, and the pitching rotation subsequently tightening up, the Grumbles said they're already happy whether Max is given the chance to continue to perform in the future or not.

"It's already a dream come true for Max," Alicia Grumbles said. "And our dream is he got to experience that. At this point, if he gets in games down the road or not, we understand there's a rotation and he understands there's a rotation. It is all about the Jackets going deep in the playoffs. What he's already experienced is everything we were hoping for so anything that happens after this is the cherry on top.

"His dream was pitching for the Yellow Jackets; having a no-no for the Jackets, how does it get any better than that? He would like to help the team through this process but if he never gets back out there again, he and we will be just as happy as we are now."

Jimmy Grumbles said he frequently looks at what his son is able to achieve and uses it as motivation for himself.

"In a town that lives and breathes baseball and produces top athletes, for him to even be a varsity pitcher as a senior is more than anybody would've ever thought," Jimmy Grumbles said. "He's taken it and he's continuously worked and worked and he has nonstop dedication to the sport, and his academics as well. He's a constant A/B student. He's motivation to myself and my wife. I don't think there's anything ever going to stop him."


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