SALT LAKE CITY — Over the weekend in Biloxi, Mississippi, Kolton Mahoney got called to the manager’s office after a baseball game between his team, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, and the Biloxi Shuckers.
The manager told the Layton native he was getting called up to Triple-A New Orleans. It had happened before, but this time it would be special. He was going to pitch in Salt Lake City.
“My family, when I told them, they were ecstatic, they thought it was probably the coolest thing ever that I could come pitch in front of them,” Mahoney said.
The first person Mahoney told was his wife, who he says started to cry a little bit.
Mahoney was officially called up to the Triple-A New Orleans Baby Cakes on Monday, but he had enough advance notice to tell family and friends he would be start against Monday against the Bees.
The 27-year-old Northridge High and BYU alumnus made his first professional start in his home state of Utah since being drafted four years ago, pitching five innings for New Orleans in a 5-2 win against the Salt Lake Bees.
“It was surreal, like unbelievable. There’s not many words to describe how happy I was to come back to Utah and have so many people come to the game, lot of family, lot of friends, lot of people I haven’t seen in years,” he said after the game.
A big group of friends and family applauded when he jogged to the pitcher’s mound in the first inning. Mahoney estimated there were close to 200 people who came to watch him, and he stayed on the field long after the Baby Cakes won to say hello and sign autographs.
Mahoney had a penchant on Monday night for getting out of hairy situations, sending the Bees back to the dugout with no runs in three consecutive innings after Salt Lake put two runners on base.
MAHONEY’S PATH THROUGH THE PROS
Mahoney starred at Northridge High before heading to BYU after graduating in 2010. According to his BYU baseball biography, Mahoney threw a no-hitter against Clearfield in 2009.
His first season pitching for BYU was 2011 when he tossed 22 1/3 innings with a 2.42 ERA. Mahoney went on a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Santa Rosa, California, thereafter.
He returned to BYU and pitched in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Mahoney’s ERA progressively went up, but so did his strikeout numbers — and his draft stock. The New York Yankees drafted him in the 15th round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
Since then he’s played for the Staten Island Yankees, Charleston (South Carolina) RiverDogs, Greensboro (North Carolina) Grasshoppers, Batavia (New York) Muckdogs, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and now the New Orleans Baby Cakes.
That’s six teams, five states and quite the eclectic assortment of mascots.
The Yankees released him in 2017. The Miami Marlins called a few days later, signed him to a minor league contract and now he’s been one of their best Double-A pitchers this year.
Until Monday night, the last time Mahoney pitched in the state of Utah was on May 7, 2015, for a BYU home game against St. Mary’s. The Gaels won 14-5 and Mahoney surrendered six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.
At the age of 27, Mahoney is considered a little older as far as minor league prospects go, but he’s been dependable at each level.
This season at Double-A Jacksonville, Mahoney has a 4-1 record in 24 games (six starts) with a 2.63 ERA and 64 strikeouts against 28 walks.
“I learned a cutter and I started starting like halfway through the year, and it’s just been really successful, just mixing it up, mixing speeds and getting people out, just finishing innings,” Mahoney said. “I’m trying to not make the moment too big and execute one pitch at a time.”
His career numbers before Monday were a 3.36 ERA and a .263 batting average against with 336 strikeouts against 101 walks.
The start in Salt Lake City wasn’t Mahoney’s first start at the Triple-A level. That also came with New Orleans last year, but it ended after five innings, six earned runs and three home runs allowed against Oklahoma City.
MAHONEY PULLS A HOUDINI
Mahoney took 26 pitches to get through the first inning, but got a strikeout with two runners on and two out to end the frame. It wasn’t the last time he had to conjure magic to keep Salt Lake off the scoreboard.
Mahoney had another two-on jam in the second inning but got another strikeout to end the frame after just 11 pitches.
A third-inning jam was a little more perilous with runners at second and third with one out. Mahoney got a strikeout and a pop out, and might want to change his last name to “Houdini.”
Mahoney ran out of get-out-of-jail cards in the fourth, surrendering an RBI triple with no outs and a one-out RBI single later. Once again he forced a flyout and got a strikeout to limit the damage.
Eventually he allowed seven hits, two earned runs, two walks and struck out six in five innings. At issue was the 94 pitches he threw in those five frames. When he walked to the dugout after the fifth inning, that big group of supporters cheered a little louder.
“I tried to stay even keel a little bit, there was times when it was hard. There was a lot of people cheering for me, which is not usual on the visiting team,” Mahoney said.
New Orleans plated five runs in the seventh inning to take a 5-2 lead and got Mahoney off the hook.
Mahoney’s visit back to his home state was brief. The team went straight to the hotel Monday night for an early-morning flight Tuesday, but it was a welcome sight and experience for a minor-league journeyman who knows Smith’s Ballpark pretty well.
“I grew up chasing homers out in left field, sitting on the berm with my dad and my little brother having fun. It was cool to pitch in a stadium I grew up coming to,” he said.
This was the Baby Cakes’ final visit to Salt Lake City this season as they began a home series with Reno on Tuesday.
The Baby Cakes are in their final year in The Big Easy. The club is slated to move to Wichita, Kansas, for the 2020 season. Assuming the team stays in the same league as Salt Lake City — and assuming Mahoney can make more good starts like he did Monday — this might not be the last time he pitches close to home.