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Mudville: May 22, 2024 1:31 am PDT

From the Heart

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

The determination which Maz Adams displays, whether he is following his heart or helping someone take care of their heart, doesn’t change when discussing either of the two professions in which the Brooklyn native engages.

Adams, 36, works in a New Jersey cardiology department during the day as a scribe coordinator, helping maintain the records and charts that allow doctors to continue saving lives. When the sun goes down, though, Adams comes out from behind that keyboard and picks up a pencil, a marker or a paint brush and begins to create pieces of art that tug on the heartstrings, allowing baseball fans the chance to embrace their heroes on a personal level.

The result of the former has earned him the gratitude of many a patient. The result of the latter has gained him a following numbering in the thousands, making him one of the hottest and up-and-coming sports artists in the industry. Adams’ client list includes Topps and Beckett as well as working for Fanatics, for whom he has created scores of pieces depicting players and teams in his unique fashion. He is also the official artist for Latino Sports.

“Making it [art] my sole job is a double-edged sword,” Adams said. “I was close to taking a leave [at one point] and was working on it but I feel responsible. I have expenses. I wanted to do more higher end [art] projects that will get noticed more and I have been doing that and things have picked up. I have to reevaluate what success is and what failure is. In a perfect world, I’d love to do a hybrid [of both jobs] but freelance [work] is scary.

“I kind of had to decide a few years ago when it was too risky to just do the art thing by itself. I have been balancing both for the last eight years and it’s not easy, but I am making it happen. I’d like to be in a position where I could do it fulltime but I enjoy what I am doing in cardio. I am good at it and I make good money. Still, I’d like to do art fulltime and I think I am on the correct trajectory for that.”

That trajectory on which Adams finds himself began as a youngster – first in Brooklyn before his family moved to New Jersey – with each stop on the journey playing an integral role in his development as a baseball fan and as an artist. His name, Maz, is actually acronym for his given name, Matthew Adam Zucker. He says Maz is the name by which he is known [he was Little Maz growing up and his father was Big Maz] and that is how he promotes himself through his art. The only one who doesn’t call him Maz is his wife, Danielle.

Adams began drawing at a young age and like many artists, there is a story that goes along with how he began to draw. He originally held the pencil incorrectly when he first started drawing and, he says, that is how he developed the muscle with which he still writes and draws.

“My earliest memories are of being in pre-K in Brooklyn and all the kids were playing at the different stations and I’ just be sitting at a table with that yellow school paper and my Crayola and I knew I was at peace with that” Adams said. “I never had any questions about what I wanted to do. It was always just art. Early on one of my teachers had me take a test to match the level of my age [to his art] and my parents knew, too. It was fun for me and it still is. Everything else that has come with it, I am grateful for.”

Maz Adams (L) presenting the Latino Sports MVP Award to Yankees pitcher Jonathan Loisiaga

Adams moved from Brooklyn to central New Jersey when he was in third grade and said it was like culture shock. While that part of the Garden State certainly isn’t rural, Adams said the move from Brooklyn to New Jersey was ‘like Little House on the Prairie’. While Laura Ingalls Wilder was nowhere to be found, there was a whole new world open to Adams – a world that included the opportunity to play baseball.

“When I moved to New Jersey I told my dad I wanted to start playing ball,” Adams said. “That was around 1994. My dad grew up a diehard Yankees fan but his dad, my grandfather, didn’t care much about sports. I got the sports gene from my dad. I told him that I wanted to play so what he did was draw a diamond with bases and on each one he would draw scenarios like a runner on first and third and ask me where I should throw the ball. We would go through it that way.

“That was a way for me to bond with my dad. When it came to high school, I ended up having a bad injury to my leg and I couldn’t play anymore. There is something magical about baseball, though. The older I get, the more I fall in love with baseball and out of love with other sports.”

The love affair with art, however, has never changed. Adams said there has never been a time when he hasn’t been drawing. He went to a high school that offered several art classes and spent many a summer at art camps. By the time his high school experience was drawing to a close he knew where he wanted to be next – the renowned Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Arts in Dover, N.J.

Rod Carew posing with a piece by Maz Adams.

“I was ramped up to go to Kubert but when I was thinking about my future, as far as sports art, that wasn’t what I intended. I wanted to work on Batman and stuff like that. The Kubert family is like comic book royalty and I grew up a huge comic fan so that’s where I wanted to go. But I discovered there were other aspects that I enjoyed more.”

One of those aspects is sports art. Adams began posting some of his work online about six years ago and people started to notice. He also forged a friendship with someone at Fanatics in regard to his other passion, collecting baseball memorabilia, particularly Yankees game-used and authenticated items. One thing led to another and Adams began working for Fanatics about a year and a half ago.

“They [Fanatics] reached out to me,” Adams said. “My friend told me they were trying to expand their art roster. Previously I had done sketch cards and comics. “From there, the ball started rolling. During the past five or six years, everything has felt surreal. I’ve gotten to meet so many of my heroes and have been given so many opportunities. I’m enjoying it all because it can all end tomorrow.

“I was mostly doing commission work before I took this on. There is a list of people I would love to draw but I am blessed to be kept busy with the paid work so I don’t have time to do some of the people I want to do. I have 11 or 12 pieces I have to finish.”

Miami Marlins by Maz Adams - available through Fanatics.com

Adams tries to work on his art as much as possible but he lives in Eastern Pennsylvania, an hour from where he works in New Jersey. So, between commuting and balancing his art with being available for his family, it isn’t always easy. He is currently working on his assignments for Fanatics and has a list of players which he needs to finish.

Adams says he tries to get one done every week but some of his subjects can take a bit of time to complete. A short-time piece can take as many as 16 hours to complete while the more detailed pieces can take nearly twice as long.

“Facial hair and scruff take forever,” Adams said. “Pete Alonso was about 30 hours; that was a lot. I want to keep the quality consistent. I’ve been given an opportunity and I want to make the most of it. I don’t want to show favoritism and look like I phoned it in on anybody.”

No one will ever accuse Adams of phoning it in, though. His dedication to his craft and his character makes taking shortcuts an impossibility. And people are noticing. Adams was featured in an episode of Yankees Magazine on the YES Network, the Yankees’ network, last month detailing his life and his work. He’ll be back in the Bronx at some point to present Nestor Cortes with a portrait for winning the Best Starting Pitcher Award from Latino Sports. The Latino Sports Awards were created in 1989 as a way to honor Ruben Sierra when he finished second in the American League MVP voting.

Aaron Judge by Maz Adams - available through Fanatics.com

“They have been doing it every year as a reward for the best player,” Adams said. “They have one American League and National League starting pitcher, two relief pitchers and rookies. James Fiorentino does the overall MVPs and I do the other six. I got to give one to Jonathan Loaisiga [in 2022] before a game. They announced my name before the game and my dad was there and he was crying. It was one of the best moments of my life. The good news is that Nestor Cortes won this year for starter and [Mets closer Edwin] Diaz won for reliever.”

Adams has also collaborated with Hall-of-Famer Rod Carew on a piece. That one meant a bit more to Adams than other portraits he has created because of Carew’s medical history. The multi-time batting champion was the recipient of a heart transplant in 2016.

“The fact that I work in cardiology and he had a heart transplant meant a lot,” Adams said.

It always seems to come back to the heart for Adams.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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