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

Andrew Gillis
NBC Sports Washington

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' draft pick Coby Mayo's career is shaped by tragedy, but still has him chasing a dream originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

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