Extended absence helps Oilmen’s Kenny Mahala brush up on mental side
By Dave Melton Post-Tribune correspondent July 25, 2013 8:50PM
Whiting Oilmen's Kenny Mahala picks up the shattered bat of teamate Joe Holihan against the Chicago Zephyrs during their game held at Oil City Stadium in Whiting on Friday June 14, 2013. | Charles Mitchell~For Sun-Times Media1
Updated: August 27, 2013 6:40AM
WHITING — Talking baseball with NWI Oilmen infielder Kenny Mahala — a 2010 Andrean graduate — can quickly become an extended conversation. This student of the game has learned enough lessons in his career that he can speak at length on myriad aspects of the game.
Take his philosophy on hitting home runs, for example.
“If you try to swing for home runs, you’re probably going to start pulling off which will lead to us rolling over,” Mahala said, attributing this particular lesson to Ryan Knox, his hitting coach at Heartland Community College. “He told us that home runs were pitched, not hit. If a pitcher doesn’t hit his spot or if they leave something out over the plate, that’s how a home run is pitched.”
Mahala is quite familiar with the long ball, tying for the Heartland CC team lead with six in the 2013 season. At Andrean, Mahala still holds the career home run record and remains second in RBI and walks. But it wasn’t until his 24th game this summer — Monday night against the Lexington Snipes — that the left-handed slugger was able to notch his first home run of this MCL season.
That hit came as part of a recent surge by Mahala, who’s raised his batting average 23 points in the last week. Entering Thursday’s game, Mahala was 6-for-17 in his last five contests with one double and the aforementioned homer.
“It never hurts a guy’s ego to hit a home run,” said Oilmen manager Justin Huisman. “Not that we need him to hit home runs all the time, but just get on base. We’ve got a lot of guys that, if we can get runners on base, we can do a lot of damage.”
Simply having the opportunity to hit those home runs is a welcome change for Mahala, who spent a long time away from the game after undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 26, 2011. With his physical baseball skills temporarily on the shelf, Mahala spent that long layoff brushing up on the mental side of the game.
“I watched a ton of baseball games; even if it was teams that I didn’t play for,” he said. “I just watched the game and learned. I watched the way that pitchers threw to hitters and when they use off-speed pitches. I also learned more about certain bunting situations and covering the bases defensively; things like that.”
“It’s more of a mental game than a physical game.”
While he’s been focused on the mental aspects of the game, he hasn’t ignored the physical portions, either.
“One thing I’ve been doing a lot lately is hitting the weight room a lot harder,” said Mahala, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds on the Oilmen roster. “It’s such a long season, then you might have two weeks off, and then you get right back into the swing of things at college. You have to have the mentality that you can do it. You have to keep getting better.”
Mahala will be a junior when he heads back to Heartland this fall, but he doesn’t intend for that to be the end of his baseball career.
“You start to push yourself more because you realize that, if you don’t do the things that you need to do in order to reach the next level, this could be your last few years of baseball.
“No one wants that.”