Being away from baseball for multiple years can hurt player's skills, but for RiverDogs pitcher Kolton Mahoney, it helped him develop even more. The now RiverDogs reliever took two years off from college baseball to serve his faith on a mission trip to Santa Rosa, California after his freshman year at BYU.
Kolton Mahoney had always grown up playing baseball. He spent is free time with his brothers and sister playing whiffle ball in his backyard. During his junior year of high school, he started to become a pitcher and worked on recruiting himself to BYU by going to summer camps. He received a scholarship his freshman year and went on to be the closer after developing his arm strength.
After an All-American freshman season at BYU, he faced a very tough decision. Mahoney chose to step away from baseball and go on a two-year mission trip to serve the Church of Jesus Christ, Latterday Saints in Santa Rosa California in August of 2011. While there, he taught people how to come to Christ and receive the restored gospel. Mahoney also developed different mindsets that proved to benefit his future. "It taught me a lot about dedication and hard work. It gave me a really good work ethic and I probably matured there more in two years than I did any where else. It was an incredible experience and I wouldn't trade it for anything else."
When Mahoney returned in August 2013, he still had a spot on BYU's team, but things had changed. There was a new coaching staff and new players he had to get to know. The hardest part was having to develop his arm strength again. "The coaching staff didn't know if I came back with my arm in shape so they had to find a way to get it in shape. I came back really skinny so I had to work hard and put some muscle on."
In his returning season (2014), Mahoney made his way into BYU's record books by throwing the seventh no-hitter in program history. It was a cold and windy night, not the greatest for baseball, but it ended up being a memory Mahoney will never forget. "By about the sixth or seventh inning guys stopped talking to me like I was on the bench by myself everyone would give me a high five in the dugout and there wasn't a word said to me. About the eighth inning I was trying not to look at the scoreboard and trying not to jinx myself. The break between the eighth and ninth was probably the most painstaking break I've had; I knew I had it in my head and I was trying not to say to myself, and when that ninth inning came I told myself 'nothing is going to stop me from getting this no-hitter.'"
Mahoney was drafted by the Brewers that following summer but decided not to sign and went back to college to develop his arm a bit more and play in the Cape Cod League. He got the opportunity to face some of the top hitters in college baseball and performed well against them. Mahoney was tied for tops in the league in strikeouts and ranked fifth in ERA. "Some of the top hitters I faced were 1st round or second round guys that are playing in Triple-A now and guys that are really close to the big leagues. That was a cool situation to be in and pitch against those guys and I remember striking some of those guys out and that was a fun time."
The Yankees came calling in 2015 and this time Mahoney was ready. He got drafted in the 16th round after having an up and down season at BYU. "I had some really good games and some really bad ones, I struck guys out but I had some games where I walked a bunch of dudes, I wasn't very consistent." Growing up as a Red Sox fan, getting drafted by the Yankees seemed to be ironic. "My whole family are Red Sox fans; they always told me the one team I couldn't get drafted by was the Yankees, but they were really happy for me and they will cheer for me but not the Yankees."
In his first two years in the Yankees farm system, Mahoney spent time in the New York-Penn League, posting a sub-3.00 ERA each year. His biggest adjustment coming into that league was that he didn't have to focus on anything but baseball, no more school work or extra curricular activities, he could now spend all his attention on pitching. After two years, his challenging work paid off as he made the roster in Charleston. "I was really determined this of season to make a team out of spring training, and I think I showed that. I developed some of my pitches a little bit deeper this offseason."
So far in his first season in Charleston, Mahoney has not allowed a run through nine innings of bullpen work. He has struck out 11 batters and surrendered four hits as of April 24. Opponents are batting just .125 against him.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.