Mike Mayers was standing on the ninth tee at the Ole Miss golf course Friday afternoon when he got the call that changed his life. He kept playing – for one more shot.
The Cardinals had called and said get ready. We’re drafting you as the 93rd pick.
So Mayers teed it up and...
“...I swung about as well as I could,” he said.
“Then I quit.”
There was no way he was going to be able to concentrate on a game of golf. Not on arguably the biggest day at the most important moment of his young life.
Not even with his dad and also teammate Tanner Bailey there to complete that ninth hole and head to the clubhouse.
Nope, there’d be no finishing this round.
“I think at that point it was worse on my stomach and my nerves, because it was one of those things after seeing everything that’s happened with the draft and people slipping and people going where you didn’t think they’d go, it got to that 93rd pick and I was like 'Alright, is this really going to happen?' It was definitely an unreal experience and definitely a dream come true,” said Mayers, who as the second-game starter just finished up his third year in the Ole Miss program, and alongside first-game starter Bobby Wahl created one of the country’s best one-two punches.
Third round. Pick No. 93.
Mayers said all the right things about negotiating and not being committal to either going pro or staying for his senior year of college.
“It’s an exciting time, to be drafted by such a great organization and still have the dream that I’ve had since I can remember growing up,” said Mayers, a native of Grove City, Ohio. “This has always been my dream. To be 21 years old and still have this dream is a great experience and I’m blessed to be where I am.”
So what’s next?
“This is all new to me,” Mayers said, who will begin talks this weekend with the Cardinals. “I wasn’t drafted out of high school. So honestly there is a lot of unknown.”
Not drafted out of high school. Now drafted in the third round as a top 100 pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
Want to know what playing for a college baseball program can do for a career, in this case playing for the Ole Miss baseball program?
“Coach (Mike) Bianco definitely gets you ready for the next level and life in general,” said Mayers as he looked back on his three years in Mississippi. “He plays a huge role in all our players growing up and becoming men. I definitely grew up and it was kinda under his wing. I can’t thank him enough for that. My maturity level and my knowledge about the game, a lot of credit goes to him. And of course my teammates who’ve helped me along the way.”
Mayers posted 2.83 ERA this past season with 73 strikeouts and held opponents to a .227 batting average in his time on the mound. The right-hander combined for a pair of shutouts, including 7.0 innings of scoreless relief against No. 13 Mississippi State in a game that was suspended due to rain, earning SEC Pitcher of the Week honors.
For his career, Mayers posted a 12-9 record with 171 strikeouts and a .236 opponent batting average, helping the Rebels to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths, including the NCAA Regional Championship game in 2012 at Texas A&M. He also posted five shutouts in his three years.
He joins another rising Rebel legend with one of baseball’s storied franchises. Mayers has great respect for Lance Lynn and has actually received assistance from him with his pitching.
“Lance Lynn is a guy here that you look up to when you play at Ole Miss,” Mayers said. “He helped me out this spring early when he was here before he left for spring training. So it’s been a pretty neat experience to still have that same guy to look up to and a guy that does things the right way all the time.”
But Mayers was still having trouble grasping that his close friend and teammate, Wahl, had not been drafted in the earlier rounds. Wahl went to the A’s as the 161st pick in the fifth round.
“My heart hurts for him,” Mayers said. “I can’t imagine him having to go through that (waiting), being one of the best pitchers in the country.”
Wahl indeed finally got the call but was surprised it took so long.
“I was completely blindsided by it, to say the least,” said the Springfield, Va., native.
“I'm not 100 percent sure,” Wahl said of what might have led to him being drafted so much later than projected. “I thought everything went well this season. I thought it might be a different story, but that's life. God has a plan, and you have to just trust him.”
An All-America and All-SEC selection in 2013, Wahl posted a perfect 10-0 record on the season with a 2.03 ERA through his 16 starts. He became the first 10-win pitcher for the Rebels since the 2006 season when Cody Satterwhite posted 11 wins working out of the bullpen for most of the season. Wahl is the first regular starter to hit the 10-win mark since 2001 when Pete Montrenes went 10-4.
This season, Wahl struck out 78 through his 97.2 innings of work and held opponents to a .197 batting average in his time on the mound. He combined for three shutouts and also pitched a complete-game shutout of Tennessee this past season. His three combined shutouts all came against nationally-ranked teams and helped set up a pair of series sweeps and a series win over in-state rival Mississippi State.
Through his 16 starts, Wahl left the game with the Rebels trailing only once. In eight starts against nationally-ranked teams, the right-hander posted a 4-0 record with a 1.14 ERA and in his four no-decisions left the game with the Rebels tied or holding a lead.
Wahl said, of course, he is entertaining thoughts of returning to Ole Miss. But that would have been the case no matter what.
“Even if I'd have gone in the top 10 picks,” he said. “Ole Miss is a special place, a place I've called home. Obviously I'm thinking about it, but I'm in a win-win situation here with the Athletics. It's a great organization. I have to wait and see.”
Wahl called Bianco as soon as he was drafted.
“We talked a little bit about the options available and everything like that,” Wahl said. “He's just really happy for me. He knows that playing professional baseball is every baseball player's dream. To have a chance and be in the situation I'm in, he couldn't be more happy for me. He told me I was in his prayers. I'm blessed to have a man like him in my life. It's unbelievable.”
Stuart Turner’s stay at Ole Miss was likely short-lived, unless of course he decides to return. One of the best all-around catchers in Rebel history, Turner transferred in from junior college at LSU-Eunice. He had a stellar season behind the plate and at the plate.
Turner, a third-round pick of the Twins and the 78th overall selection, paced the Rebels with a .374 batting average, 51 RBI and 44 runs scored. He hit 15 doubles, a triple and five RBI as the top slugger on the team and one of the top hitters in the Southeastern Conference.
An All-America and All-SEC selection, Turner is a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award honoring the nation’s top catcher in collegiate baseball. The junior threw out an astounding 51 percent of base runners this season on steal attempts, catching 21-of-41 on the run.
“I've been a baseball player my whole life,” Turner said. “You always dream of playing professional ball and playing Big League ball.”
It appears Turner is on the road to the pro ranks.
“The way the draft works now with the slots, there's a lot of talking before, finding out what you'd be happy with and what you wouldn't be happy with. We think we came to terms,” he said. “There's still some talks to be made on our end. As far as the slots, they want a hard confirmation that you're going to commit and do it because they don't want to lose that pick.”
Turner wasn’t drafted after last season in junior college.
“From one year of playing in the SEC at Ole Miss, it shows a higher competition of playing against and it definitely worked out in my favor,” he said.
Count Turner as another who is surprised Wahl went later than predicted.
"I guess the scouts have some different knowledge than us,” he said. “Some of the guys were texting back and forth, wondering what the heck was going on, sort of baffled. God has a plan and I think it will all work out in the end.”
All the Rebel teammates were texting and calling each other to see what they’d heard on this player or that player.
Senior pitcher Brett Huber, a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals since he’s from Belleville, Ill., outside of St. Louis, was fired up about Mayers going to his favorite team.
“It’s a big deal around here,” Mayers said of the Mid-South being part of Cardinal territory and the Memphis Redbirds being their Triple A affiliate. “There are a lot of Cardinals fans here. Huber has been blowing up my phone all day today. Huber and I are pretty close. He was actually my host on my (recruiting) visit here.”
A visit that meant so much to Mayers that it solidified where he wanted to spend at least three years of his life in college.
“I love this place. I fell in love with this place as soon as I got here,” Mayers said. “Like every kid I went through my ups and downs. But if I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing, pick the same place. Oxford and Ole Miss have been incredible for me and my family. I couldn’t imagine playing baseball anywhere else but Swayze.”
(Draft rounds 11-40 are set for Saturday.)