‘An unbelievable journey’ for new White Sox catcher Max Stassi

Max Stassi (left) congratulates pitcher Ryan Tepera of the Los Angeles Angels after securing the 6-5 win against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 01, 2022. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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Max Stassi, new White Sox catcher, comes well-rested, not having played a game in 2023.

Emotionally, however, Stassi’s tank will need replenishing after he and wife Gaby endured a most taxing year, seeing their baby son birthed in the 26th week of pregnancy and powering through the most traumatic time of their lives.

Jackson Stassi, 9 months old, now weighs 16 pounds. He weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces at birth.

“It was an unbelievable journey,” Stassi told the Sun-Times this week. “He and my wife are the two strongest people I know. They’re incredible.”

The challenges Jackson and his mother faced were incredible, too.

At 21 weeks, Gaby’s water broke at a Chicago emergency room in March — the couple lived in Chicago, where she worked — and labor began. After fearing the worst, that Jackson might not see the light of day, he was born 27 days later.

“The overall experience has changed our lives,” Stassi said. “Us three have a bond that is as strong as it gets.”

As Stassi prepares for his first spring training with the Sox — he was traded from the Angels to the Braves in December, then flipped to the Sox — his outlook is different. On baseball, on everything else, too.

“Realizing what’s really important in life,” he said. “Things in the past that bothered you, you think they’re a big deal. But when you’re in the NICU for six months, you realize that stuff doesn’t really matter. It’s all about health and family and faith. And sticking together, that’s what really matters.”

There were too many life-changing, gut-wrenching moments before and after the birth to count. His wife was hospitalized for a month until Jackson was born, so when you ask Stassi to identify the most trying event of the journey, his mind spins back to the six most trying months of his life.

“That’s a difficult question,” he said. “There were probably at least 15 different moments because he had so many different tests done. They tested everything — brain, lung, heart. Waiting on those results. Extubation trial, trying to get him off that ventilator. He lasted about six days, but you need to do it for two weeks.”

When Jackson was born, he couldn’t be held for six days. First-time parents can only imagine.

“He was a pound and a half and very fragile,” Stassi said. “But we were able to stick our hands in [the incubator] and touch his hand. Just let him know we were there.”

There had been warnings Jackson could be born with abnormalities because he lost his surrounding amniotic fluid when Gaby’s water broke, but there were no such issues. There was a brain bleed during birth, Stassi said, but that was resolved. Stassi is confident it won’t cause developmental issues.

Because of a respiratory condition, the baby was intubated during his first six months, and he still requires a tracheal tube to facilitate breathing. He might need that till he’s 2. So the challenges remain.

But Jackson is home and well, and Daddy is putting his catcher’s mask on again.

“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “My wife and I lived here previously. It’s a new start. You go to a new organization, it’s like going to a new school. You know some people, but you build relationships.”

Stassi, 32, was nursing a sore hip last spring and wasn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season, which would’ve been his fifth with the Angels. He’d start on the injured list and finish on the restricted list, sitting out the year to devote everything in his being to his family. The reason was kept private until after the season.

Meanwhile, Stassi’s hip is good. He and fellow veteran Martin Maldonado, 37, also new to the Sox, should provide a good defensive tandem.

“I’m excited about what they bring as far as game-calling and game management that we needed to improve on,” manager Pedro Grifol said.

With Jackson home and his arrow pointing up, Stassi is ready to return to work.

“He’s 16 pounds now and spending the majority of the day off the ventilator,” Stassi said. “He’s doing good. Everything is good.”

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