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Mahalic's getting used to attention

On Sports
by: , MAHALIC

When Wilson High pitcher Joey Mahalic went down to the bullpen a few weeks back to warm up for his first game this season, he spent a lot more time there than usual.

Normally, it takes the flame-throwing right-hander about 10 minutes to get ready for a starting assignment. But this time, the warm-up went on and on and on.

Trouble getting his arm loose? Not exactly. There were so many watching him, he just didn't know quite how to handle it.

'I warmed up for about 25 minutes,' he says with a smile. 'I guess I wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to see what they wanted to see.'

Mahalic pitched - and batted - the Trojans to a state championship in a magical 2006 season. In the title game, he hammered a long home run and pitched a dominant game. Along the way, he began to attract a crowd of scouts who see him as a possible high pick in the June major-league draft.

Every time Mahalic pitches, they're behind the plate with radar guns, timing his fastball like a group of state troopers trying to fill their quota of monthly tickets, huddled together at a speed trap.

'I don't even notice them much anymore,' he says. 'I'm not too concerned about it.'

That's partly because Mahalic's baseball future is secure. He already has committed to attend Oregon State, part of the best recruiting class OSU baseball has ever seen.

'I'm a Beaver,' he says. 'I know where I'm going to be next year, and I'm looking forward to it. It's nice because so many other people I know are still trying to figure out their college choices.'

And if he has anything to say about it, Mahalic doesn't want to settle for just a pitching slot at Oregon State. 'I want to try to swing it, too,' he says. 'In college, there have been several guys who are two-way players. I want to try to play, too.'

Wilson isn't the juggernaut it was last season, when it won its final 24 games en route to the state title. The Trojans are solid, but young players are everywhere, trying to fill spots from the senior-laden club that went all the way.

'I heard someone saying, 'They are the state champs,' ' Mahalic says. 'But we're not. We're a completely different team. We have a lot to prove this season. We're learning as we go. But I'm confident that we're getting better, and I can see it coming together.

'It's a little different for me this year. Last year, it was pretty easy to pitch because I knew we were always going to score plenty of runs. It's not that way now, but that's OK. My arm feels good, and I think I'm getting stronger.'

And more mature. Last season, there were times when Mahalic was a little too emotional on the mound. He let things get to him a little and showed it in his demeanor.

'I was a lot younger,' he says. 'I think I've grown up a lot. We went through a lot in the playoffs, and that helped. Harold Reynolds told me a story, too, about his career.

'He told me that he threw his bat once in high school after striking out and then, 20 years later, ran into a scout who was there at that game. The scout told him he'd seen that and said, 'What a bad attitude you had in high school.' It was one thing he did just one time. And that's the way it is.

'You do one stupid thing in high school and it can haunt you. I try to do what Joe DiMaggio said he did - play like there's always someone there seeing you play for the first time.'

And as good as that quote is, I'm not sure if it's as nice as the fact that there's a high school kid out there in 2007 who not only knows who DiMaggio was, but can quote him.

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