In some ways, Coby Mayo believes the dream-achieving joy of June 11, 2020, doesn’t come without the pain, terror and sadness of Feb. 14, 2018.
The former was the day the Orioles took Mayo, a power-hitting third baseman out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, in the fourth round of the MLB draft. The latter was the day a gunman came to the high school’s campus and killed 14 of Mayo’s schoolmates and three staff members, injuring 17 others in one of the deadliest high school shootings in U.S. history.
“That day, I look back on it, and I think to myself, ‘I’m so lucky to be here today,’” Mayo said Tuesday during a video conference call, wearing a cap with #MSDSTRONG stitched into it. “I play for those people because they can’t play. They don’t have voices. They couldn’t live 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 day before the shooting, Mayo had played the first preseason game of his sophomore year. Two days later, he and others associated with the Stoneman Douglas baseball team gathered at an indoor facility owned by a friend of coach Todd Fitz-Gerald.
“We just talked and cried,” Fitz-Gerald said.
In time, the players grabbed bats and started hitting in the cages. Brian Campbell, the coach of nearby North Broward Prep, offered the school’s field, with Stoneman Douglas’ campus still closed. Fitz-Gerald addressed his team.
“We can't sit home,” he recalled telling them. “We don't need to watch the news. We don’t need to feel sorry for ourselves. This is not our fault. We need to try to stay together as much as possible.”
The message resonated. After two weeks, the Eagles played their first game since the shooting and won. They struggled at a tournament in Jacksonville, where the community honored them and a motorcade guided them from the hotel to the ballpark, then won 15 of their next 19 games to reach the regional final, suffering a 2-1 loss to end Mayo’s sophomore season.
“We didn’t let it beat us,” Fitz-Gerald said. “It didn’t beat him. He’s definitely going to be tougher for it mentally. There’s not a whole lot that you can go through in your life more tragic than that, and the way that he’s dealt with it and our program’s dealt with it has been really good. I don’t think there are too many things that are far greater than that that he’ll have to experience in his lifetime.
“I’m sure somewhere along the way, he’ll always have some remembrance. Whether it’s on his cleats or under his hat or tape on his wrist, I think he’s always going to remember those people and recognize them throughout his career.”
From there, Mayo continued to grow and develop. At 6-feet-5, he’s the tallest of the five position players the Orioles drafted last week and the only one who wasn’t selected out of college. Listed at 215 pounds, he trails only Heston Kjerstad, the University of Arkansas outfielder the Orioles took second overall. Mayo will turn 19 in December.
Mayo played shortstop the past two years to help improve his hands and footwork to match a strong throwing arm. Still, he remains “an average defender,” in Fitz-Gerald’s words, and although Orioles supervisor of domestic scouting operations Brad Ciolek said the organization believes Mayo can handle third base long term, it’s possible he becomes a first baseman or corner outfielder.
“The arm plays anywhere,” Fitz-Gerald said. “He’s got the biggest arm probably in the country.”
The bat is impressive, as well, with Ciolek saying Mayo has shown 70-grade power, on the 20-80 scouting scale, in batting practice.
“We think that we'll be able to tap into that down the road,” Ciolek said. “He has an extremely high ceiling.”
But Mayo believes it’s who he is as a person that most attracted the Orioles. When asked to provide a scouting report on himself, the first attribute he listed was “a great teammate.” Fitz-Gerald offered the same trait.
“You can’t replace a player like that in your program,” he said. “You just hope the next guy that comes in can fill the shoes a little bit. But whenever you have a player of that caliber, that magnitude, you just don’t replace him. He’s always going to be a member of our family. I’m sure when he’s home on his break, he’ll be over at the field watching the guys play, and he’ll give back to the community and give back to the program. That’s just the kind of person he is.
“I think he’s going to represent the Baltimore Orioles in the highest standard.”
Mayo’s first interactions with the Orioles came in the fall when he met with area scout Brandon Verley. The relationship remained strong through the draft, enough so that Mayo is willing to forgo his commitment to the University of Florida — “my dream school since I was a little kid” — to sign with Baltimore.
“He thought that I could be a very big part of their road back to greatness,” Mayo said, “and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Since being drafted, Mayo has spoken with Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, and he would love the chance to sit down with Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. as well. He hopes to grow into the type of players that they were.
He’s already grown so much.
“My freshman year, I was a little kid,” Mayo said. “From February 14, 2018, to now, I had to mature five times as much as any high schooler wanted because of everything that's happened. I think it was good for me, in a way. Everything happened for a reason.
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“Maybe if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard to be here today.”