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Orioles' draft pick Coby Mayo's career is shaped by tragedy, but still has him chasing a dream

Orioles' draft pick Coby Mayo's career is shaped by tragedy, but still has him chasing a dream

Coby Mayo remembers the exact date and time his life changed forever. 

On Feb. 14, 2018, at 2:21 p.m., a gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The shooter killed 17 and wounded an additional 17 staff and students. 

Mayo, a sophomore at the time, was in his final class before the day ended. It’s a day he said he won’t ever forget. 

As the community and country mourned for Parkland, life went on at the school. And one of the healing processes for the school was baseball. 

About 27 months after the shooting, Mayo was selected with the 103rd pick of the MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles. 

“My community will always hurt from that and it will always be a recovery,” Mayo said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “But that day was a very emotional day. Valentine’s Day was supposed to be a day of love and caring for one another.”

Mayo — who was committed to the University of Florida, his dream school — signed with the Orioles instead to start his professional career for a bonus of $1.75 million, far above the slot value of $565,600 for the pick. 

While staying in Florida was tempting, he’s now determined to chase his professional dream of playing in the major league. It’s a dream not only for himself, but for those that lost their lives at Mayo’s alma mater on Valentine’s Day two years ago.

“I play for those (people) because they can’t play,” Mayo said. “They don’t have voices, they couldn’t live what they wanted to do — and I can.

The Eagles lost in the regional final three months and the regional semifinals last season as the community still grieved over the horrific tragedy. This season was supposed to be the high note and feel-good ending of what was a grim high school experience. 

Instead, the coronavirus pandemic canceled the team’s season after just eight games. 

Mayo and the rest of his senior class weren’t able to have their final prom, senior night or graduation together. Instead, Mayo sat at home.

“Nobody is going to go through what those kids have gone through the last three years,” Stoneman Douglas head coach Todd Fitz-Gerald said. “To still be standing with your head high, still understanding what’s in front of you, that’s pretty impressive.”

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What has come out of a dreadful three-year stretch, however, is a level of perspective that is seldom seen in high schoolers across the country. 

“From Feb. 14, 2018, to now, I had to mature, like, five times as much as any high school kid wanted to because of everything that has happened,” Mayo said. “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 where I’m at today.”

That character trickled onto the field, where Fitz-Gerald said Mayo was one of the shining parts of Stoneman Douglas’ program.

“He’s a coach’s dream,” Fitz-Gerald said. “His character is unbelievable, off the charts. He’s never going to disrespect or make the program look bad. He’s always going to represent the Orioles and the organization in the highest regard.”

But the Orioles didn’t just draft Mayo because of his leadership qualities and character. At 6-foot-5, Mayo has incredible power and bat speed for an 18-year-old. 

After Mayo’s selection, Brad Ciolek, the Orioles’ supervisor of domestic scouting operations, said the team was awed by the power he displayed in batting practice. 

“He moves well for a bigger guy, and he also shows 70 raw power (on the 20-80 scouting scale) in BP, and we think that we’ll be able to tap into that down the road,” Ciolek said. “So he has an extremely high ceiling.”

Mayo played shortstop in high school, a move that Fitz-Gerald said was designed to improve his athleticism and footwork defensively, but said he could play either third or first base or become a corner outfielder.

In three full seasons as a varsity starter and one season as a bench player, Mayo batted .389 in 220 plate appearances with 63 hits, 50 RBIs and 13 home runs.

Over just eight games before his senior season was canceled, he batted .455 with a .613 on-base percentage and an OPS of 1.386. He walked eight times and had 10 hits and two home runs in 31 plate appearances.

“It seemed like he always came through when you needed him to come through,” Fitz-Gerald said. “Whatever the situation may be. More times than not, it seemed like he always came through when you needed something big to happen. It’s just one of those things that he’s always been able to do.”

And that’s just at the plate. 

Fitz-Gerald, who previously coached Nick Castellanos and Eric Hosmer, called Mayo’s arm the best high school arm in the country. 

With that ability, Mayo can move all around the field, Fitz-Gerald said, though he thinks Mayo might best be suited for first base or a corner outfield spot.

“I would love to stay at third base, but wherever they see me — it could be an outfielder, first baseman, third baseman — I want to be in the lineup and contribute as much as I can,” Mayo said.

He met with one of the Orioles’ area scouts in the fall as the team tracked his senior year. He figured the Orioles were one of the teams that could be interested in selecting him, and once they did, he made the choice to forego college for professional baseball. 

Yet no matter how many home runs Mayo hits or how many times he makes a great defensive play, he’ll carry the history of Stoneman Douglas with him.

It’s part of Mayo’s story now and will always be one of the first things people remember when they hear where Mayo went to high school.

But Mayo has accepted that, and he’ll never forget who he represents as he ascends the professional ranks.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I knew that I wanted to be a Major League Baseball player,” Mayo said. “Those people had dreams too. And I want to fulfill their dreams by fulfilling mine.”

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Orioles bats nearly non-existent once again in third-straight loss to motivated, reconstructed Marlins

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USA Today Sports Images

Orioles bats nearly non-existent once again in third-straight loss to motivated, reconstructed Marlins

At around 10 p.m. Wednesday night, the Orioles finally squeezed out a run, seemingly by divine intervention. 

It happened when a chopper from outfielder Austin Hays bounced off two Marlins infielders and into the outfield which allowed Anthony Santander to score and cut the lead in half. The problem was, it was the Orioles’ first run of the game, third hit of the game and ninth hit of the series. 

The Orioles, up until Hays’ single, had gone 21 ⅔ scoreless innings against a Marlins team that had 18 replacement players from its Opening Day roster due to an outbreak of COVID-19. The Marlins were a team that had to find pitchers that were simply available to throw major league innings, and they retired Orioles batters consistently through the first three games of the series.

Baltimore, operating as the road team at Camden Yards for the second half of a doubleheader, lost their third-straight in a 2-1 loss to the Marlins. The fourth game of the series will be Thursday. 

“I don’t want to take credit away from their guys, I thought they pieced it together fairly nicely out of the pen giving us some different looks,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I don’t know if we’re trying too hard, or...I’m not what it is, to be honest with you. It’s one of those little funks that we’ve gone through in a couple days.”

Ever since the second game of the season against the Red Sox, the Orioles have swung the bat particularly well, better than most thought they could. But all of those bats went silent after a series sweep of the Rays on Sunday, a series victory that left some with a brief, optimistic scenario that the Orioles could contend for a playoff spot. 

Since that win over the Rays, though, the offense hasn’t just been quiet, it’s been silent. 

The Orioles were shut out Tuesday and in game one of the doubleheader Wednesday in 4-0 and 1-0 losses, respectively. Were it not for Hays’ single, it would’ve been three straight games with a zero on the scoreboard.

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“I can’t really put my finger on it,” Hyde said. “We’re not driving the baseball. I think guys are trying to do too much, carrying too big of a load, instead of trying to get the next guy up instead of trying to win every pitch. We’re having a tough time just getting on base to start a rally and putting good ABs together after it.”

After blazing starts to the year, some of the Orioles’ best hitters have hit a cold streak at the same time against a Marlins team that was cramped in a hotel room for more than a week.

Anthony Santander is just 2-for-10 in the series, Jose Iglesias and Rio Ruiz have been hampered by injuries and Hanser Alberto, after a staggering start to the year, is 0-for-11 in the series. 

“It’s not fun,” Iglesias said. “We just lost two games, but I think we’ve got to move forward. Tomorrow is another day. We’re going to get an opportunity to play the game and come back.”

But while the bats have failed, the pitching has thrived. In that regard, it makes the previous few days that much more infuriating for the Orioles.

In the last three games, the starters have been excellent. John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski have combined to throw 14 ⅔ innings and have allowed just eight hits, four earned runs and four walks. They’ve struck out 15 batters, too, as both Means and Cobb each allowed just one run in their starts. 

All three pitchers, however, received losses. 

“I don’t have an explanation for it except I really like the way we’re pitching,” Hyde said. “I think our offense will come around. I don’t think we’re going one run in three games continuously. We have proven we can score runs and we can swing the bats against really good pitchers. This series, for whatever reason, we’re not driving the baseball. We’re not grinding out at-bats the way that we did against the teams we played before.”

The Marlins, who are now 5-1, have seemingly released all their pent up energy through the team’s pitching staff. 

The Orioles, who dropped to 5-6 with the three losses, simply haven’t had an answer for a Marlins team that came out of quarantine with a stout pitching staff.

“I’ve been impressed with their pitching, for those guys to be shut down in a hotel and throw the way they’ve been throwing, they’ve done a nice job,” Hyde said. “I don’t think we’ve helped them out, I think we’ve expanded the strike zone, but I think they’ve come out with energy and we haven’t scored any runs.”

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Major League Baseball changes protocols after coronavirus outbreaks

Major League Baseball changes protocols after coronavirus outbreaks

After COVID-19 outbreaks on both the Marlins and the Cardinals, Major League Baseball has changed its protocols for dealing with coronavirus. 

The goal is to prevent any further outbreaks and continue on the path for a 60-game season.

“We recognize that these changes place additional burdens and restrictions on players and staff,’’ according to a copy of the memo obtained by USA TODAY Sports distributed to all MLB teams. “But if we desire to play, they are necessary to limit infections and, if someone does test positive, to keep the virus from spreading.”

According to the story published by Bob Nightengale, the league has taken some very serious measures in order to keep the spread of COVID-19 contained. 

If a player or member of the organization fails to follow the new protocols, there will be severe consequences.

“Any covered individuals — whether players or club staff — who are found to have repeatedly or flagrantly violated the protocols, including refusing to wear a face covering when required and reminded to do so,’’ the memo reads, “risks being prohibited from further participation in the 2020 season and postseason (in the case of players, subject to the just cause provisions in the Basic Agreement). The Commissioner’s Office will send written warnings prior to any such action being taken.’’

According to Nightengale, new protocols must include wearing face coverings in the dugout and clubhouse, with the exception of players on the field. Teams are now forced to reduce the traveling party to those who are absolutely essential to playing the games. Meetings are now strictly prohibited in hotel rooms, and each team must have a private large room at a hotel designed for eating meals and convening during meetings.

The moves came a week after the league was seemingly on the ropes after the Marlins and Cardinals had a combined 33 members of their organizations tested positive for COVID-19. 

The Marlins’ outbreak forced the Orioles-Marlins series to be postponed a week, and later to be fully played at Camden Yards with the Orioles operating as the road team for two games of the series.

“Everyone must be accountable for their own conduct because the careless or reckless actions of a few can impact the health and well-being of everyone,’’ the memo read.

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