Mayo carries weight of tragedy through his baseball journey

The innocence and feelings of invincibility that are common in high school sophomores were lost for Orioles fourth-round draft pick Coby Mayo a little over two years ago. He can recite the exact date and time. They’re etched so deeply as to leave permanent marks.

Mayo was attending classes at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., when a gunman, later identified as former student Nikolas Cruz, entered the building with a semi-automatic rifle and, for reasons that still aren’t fully developed, killed 17 people and injured 17 others.

No story about Mayo is going to be told in full without reliving the tragedy. Something he’s been doing ever since it happened.

“That day was obviously a day that I’ll never forget and my community will always hurt from that and it will always be a recovery,” Mayo said this afternoon while wearing a “MSD Strong” cap during his Zoom conference call with the local media.

“That day was a very emotional day. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day of love and caring for one another. At 2:21 in my last period class, it all changed when a former classmate opened up fire into our school and killed 17 students and staff and injured 17 more and hurt the whole world.

“That day, I look back on it and I think to myself, ‘I’m so lucky to here today.’ If it wasn’t for my coaches, my family, my friends, I wouldn’t be here where I’m at today without them to push me. And every single day, doing it for those ones that were lost. I play for those because they can’t play. They don’t have voices, they couldn’t live (to do) what they wanted to do and I can.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I knew that I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player and those people had dreams, too, and I want to fulfill their dreams by me fulfilling mine. The whole community needed something big to come out of it and that’s what I really wanted to do and that’s what happened on June 11 when the Orioles selected me. So I’m really very blessed to be here and happy to do it for them.”

Two of the survivors committed suicide shortly after the first anniversary of the shooting. The long-term effects of the trauma were felt everywhere. Mayo kept pushing through his pain, with scouts noticing a lot more about him than just a power bat and plus arm at third base.

“I would say for my freshman year, I was a little kid,” he said. “I came into school 14 years old and I didn’t know what to expect. I was a little kid. My next year, I was 15 going into my sophomore year, and Feb. 14, 2018 to now, it was like I had to mature five times as much as any high school kid wanted to because of everything that happened.

“I think it was good for me in a way. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe if that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard to be here today. It’s just weird to look back on it and see everything that happened. I’m still here today and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Coby-Mayo-swing-jpgArea scout Brandon Verley met with Mayo in the fall and the Orioles kept tracking his progress this year. He was 10-for-22 (.455) with one double, two home runs and six RBIs in 31 plate appearances before the shutdown after posting a .391 average as a junior with a double, triple, four home runs and 21 RBIs in 88 plate appearances. He hit .388 as a sophomore with eight doubles, a triple, seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 94 plate appearances.

The mental toughness was noted as much as his stats and 6-foot-5, 215-lb. frame.

“He (Verley) was very nice and it seemed like he really liked me and we talked a little bit about the affiliates and the Orioles as a whole,” Mayo said. “He thought that I could be a very big part of their road back to greatness and I wanted to be a part of that. They showed great interest toward the draft. ... There was interest there and I knew that they were a team that could be on me.”

The Orioles needed to gauge whether they could sign Mayo, who might have been swayed toward his commitment to the University of Florida. They knew that they had an agreement on Day 2 of the draft and he’s receiving a $1.75 million bonus pending the results of his physical.

“The University of Florida was my dream school since I was a little kid and having the opportunity to go there would have been a dream come true, but at the same time, I knew that pro ball would start my career much faster and would get me to where I wanted to be much faster,” Mayo said. “Major League Baseball nowadays is all about the young talent and I wanted to be a part of that. I thought that given the opportunity and being drafted by such a great organization, it was hard to pass up on that.

“It was definitely difficult because, like I said, having a dream school like the University of Florida and playing in the SEC, playing against the best schools in the country, it was definitely a decision that I had to sit down and talk to my parents about. Having the opportunity to start my career and my passion of the game when I’m younger is a lot more of an advantage. The young talent in the league - Fernando Tatis and Ronald Acuña - all those guys are young talent and they’re coming up and they’re going to be great for so long, and that’s what I want to be.”

Brad Ciolek, the Orioles’ supervisor of domestic scouting operations, said in a recent Zoom call that Mayo will be kept at third base. The organization won’t be tempted to try his arm on the mound or at another position.

“I haven’t talked to them much,” Mayo said. “They wanted to give me the weekend to enjoy myself, but I would love to stay at third base. Wherever they see me as - it could be an outfielder, first baseman, third baseman - I want to be in the lineup and contribute as much as I can.”

The Orioles seemed to emphasis power more in this draft compared to 2019. Mayo has plenty of it, but he first spoke about the intangibles when asked today what he offers.

“They’re getting, I’ve always said this, a great teammate,” he said. “That’s what always comes first. I’ve always been a kid who cares about his teammates before myself and they’re getting just a great, great kid and team player. And I want to win a World Series just as bad as they want to.

“I think they picked me because they know how good of a kid I am and what I bring to the table. I’ve got a big bat, I’ve got a big arm. My defense plays. Everyone always says, ‘You’re feet and hands are slow,’ but I’ve worked on that. They haven’t seen that in the last four or five or six months. I’ve been working on that. I’m just really excited to get out there and show them what I’m about.”

A good kid who can hit the ball a really long way.

A tool that he’s carried for as long as he can remember.

“I would say my power just came from I’ve always been a big kid and I’ve always worked really, really hard on my hitting,” he said.

“Bat speed is something that I take pride in because I have one of the top exit velos in the class. I’d say my bat speed is my reason why I have such great power. And working hard every day. Hitting doesn’t come by accident. I worked hard for my power and for everything that came with it.”

Mayo has been studying the franchise since his name was called last week. He’s heard from Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and done his research on Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. - referring to them today as “Mr. Robinson, Mr. Murray, Mr. Ripken.”

“Hopefully, one day I get to sit down with them and pick their brain a little bit about the game and take some of their accomplishments and try to put it into my game a little bit and make me a better ballplayer,” Mayo said. “So I’m excited for this opportunity.”

Note: The Orioles have signed their fourth undrafted player, Duke University right-hander Thomas Girard.

Girard, a reliever, was named a third-team Preseason All-American by D1Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He posted a 2.94 ERA with 13 saves and 94 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings in three seasons at Duke. He had one walk and 23 strikeouts in 13 innings this year before the shutdown.

Girard’s father, Joe, posted the news on Twitter.

Girard attended the same high school, Avon Old Farms School in Connecticut, as Orioles third-round pick Hudson Haskin.

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