Ben There, Doing ThatAugust 9, 2012
“My Mom used to always kick me out of the house to go play outside and do something,” said McMahan (
@BenMac15), an outfielder with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. “My parents were the ones who initiated baseball. They took me out to Tee Ball, and even when I didn’t want to go anymore, they took me out to Little League practices and games.”
Soon, the gentle family nudges were no longer necessary. McMahan, who dabbled in other sports, including some basketball court time, found the love of his life. Not to mention, how he would spend his future in it.
“It just kind of took off, and every time I played another sport, it was just something to get me ready to go play baseball again,” said McMahan. “I loved it ever since. It was always baseball.”
McMahan morphed into a baseball junkie who kept making his mark on the diamond. A standout 1st Team All-State player as a high school senior, McMahan caught the attention of the New York Yankees, who drafted him in the 30th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. McMahan didn’t sign, because he was still catching on to his new adopted position.
His crash course in catching at Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando earned him a scholarship at the University of Florida. McMahan’s bat and athleticism latched him on with a talented group of Gators, including catcher Mike Zunino, the third overall pick in the draft this past June by the Seattle Mariners.
“It was a little rough, I mean, I was playing behind someone who went number three overall this year, so I didn’t get too much playing time behind the plate,” said McMahan. “But I got some starts here and there, some DH spots, played a little at first base and some in the outfield.
“They got me in there whenever they could, and we had a pretty stacked lineup too, so I was definitely more of a substitute kind of guy coming off the bench and doing what I needed to do.”
There were enough glimpses at the plate and behind it for the Brewers to take notice and project potential. McMahan was a 2011 selection by Milwaukee in the 23rd round with an instant defensive shift in mind.
“It was one of those things where the Brewers said we’re going to draft you, put you in the outfield, and I was like, yeah sure,” said McMahan. “Getting an opportunity to get drafted and doing whatever they tell me is what I’m going to do. It’s been a solid transition, but definitely I need to work on my skills having only one full season out there.”
Losing the “tools of ignorance,” aka, catcher’s equipment, didn’t mean McMahan ignored the steps he must take to claim a comfortable level in the outfield. Offseason work was the first step, then on the job training took over from there.
“I went to the instructional league last year in Arizona and was with the outfield rover and coordinator everyday doing drills, working my butt off to get repetitions,” said McMahan. “Going back on balls is one of the things I need to work on…balls going over my head. Different things like cleaning up my routes, coming in on balls hard, basic things that develop over time by playing there. Those are the big things. Repetition, game experience, just getting the confidence to go at a ball hard every time, not ease up out there, and play aggressively.”
Laboring in left field has paid dividends and produced positive numbers as proof. McMahan heads into August with 11 outfield assists, a handful more than any Timber Rattlers teammate past or present launching balls from the outfield.
“It’s one of those things where guys were running on me early in the season because they didn’t really know me too well, so they were sending guys, giving me the opportunities to throw guys out,” said McMahan. “It’s gone smoothly, I like it out there. It’s a little different perspective looking in on the field rather than looking out from behind the plate.”
Airing out his arm when he was a catcher certainly helped the cause when McMahan was asked to uncork his throws from the outfield grass. But with a new view and different approach on his throws, finesse also factored into the equation.
“Catching has definitely helped me with my throwing, but it’s a little different throwing when you’re coming in on the run,” said McMahan, who has also started 11 games in right field. “Behind the plate, it’s more just get it and throw it. So I have to control it a little more, get on top of it, keep the ball down.
“It’s got to have backspin, it’s got to stay straight, because when you start getting that tail or cut that’s when the ball starts getting off line and you’re not going to have a chance. It’s not as easy as it looks out there, that’s for sure.”
McMahan doesn’t pretend to have the outfield mastered just yet, and he leans on soaking up the knowledge of his teammates who have been outfielders from the get-go. But when the 22-year-old struggled early at the plate, only patience would pay off and produce better statistical digits.
“I kind of had the jitters going into the season, all amped up,” admitted McMahan. “Being the first full season with the team got me out of my game a little bit, taking big swings, not really working counts. The cold weather definitely came into play a little bit. But Tommy Toledo, who was on the team earlier, told the guys ‘Just wait…wait until it starts getting warm, and McMahan’s going to start swinging the bat.’”
Toledo, a teammate of McMahan’s with the Gators, was prolific and proved his prediction accurate when McMahan got locked and load once spring had sprung in Appleton. A forgettable April, McMahan mustered only a .200 average without a home run. But that inaugural month evaporated with an explosive May when he hit .363 with three round trippers.
“I got in the cage, slowed myself down, controlled my swing a little more,” said McMahan, who went on to hit over .300 in June and July with six more home runs and 31 RBI. “Rather than swinging 100 percent every time, I took it down to 80 and made solid contact, working the whole field and not trying to do too much.”
Doing too much is never enough for McMahan, who isn’t inflated with the notion that by showing up on the field, he is assured of a spot in the Brewers outfield someday down the line. And it may be highly unlikely, but the former catcher would hustle into the dugout to change out his glove without hesitation.
“If they wanted me to get back there, sure, I mean, why not?” said McMahan. “It’s one of those things where it’s whatever they want me to do, whatever gets me in that lineup every day, I’m game.”
Staying in the game, regardless of the position or place on the lineup card is paramount to McMahan. Only forward progress is now acceptable for the converted catcher in his second season of professional baseball.
“I want to maintain what I’m doing and stay healthy,” said McMahan, who missed two weeks earlier in the season with back problems. “It’s a day to day battle coming in, getting treatment, along with stretching and workouts. It’s like the last leg of the race right now for me, so I want to finish strong and help the team any way I can.”
And the boyhood dream? The one that began only because his Mom showed him the way by showing him the door.
“If you don’t have it, it’s one of those things where you have to ask yourself why are you out here playing every day?” said McMahan. “Obviously, it’s not for the money yet, that’s for sure. If you don’t have that dream and that drive to hopefully one day play in the big leagues, then why are you out here?
“I’m not a big prospect yet, I wasn’t one of the big names in the draft, wasn’t a high pick for a lot of money, but for me it’s going to be different than the guys who got picked higher. I’m going to bust my butt every day, do whatever I can to make a name for myself and hopefully work my way up through the different levels of the organization. That’s my ultimate goal, and if I keep on doing what I’m doing on the field it’s definitely a possibility.”
(PHOTOS BY BRAD KRAUSE)