June 18, 2009
By David Driver
For the Daily News
Used with permission
BOWIE, Md. -- Kevin Mahar played briefly in the Major Leagues in 2007 and had batted cleanup this season for the Reading (Pa.) Phillies.
But earlier this year his manager, Steve Roadcap, told Mahar he would be batting eighth for Reading in an Eastern League game.
Some players might view it as demotion, but not Mahar.
"As long as I am in the top nine," said Mahar, according to Roadcap.
Which meant that Mahar, a 1999 graduate of Midland High School, simply wants a spot in the lineup, no matter where he hits in the order.
"That is the kind of person he is," Roadcap said.
Mahar has batted in several different spots this season for Reading, the Class AA affiliate of the world champion Philadelphia Phillies.
But a bigger adjustment has been on defense, where he has played mostly at first base after spending most of his time as an outfielder through his pro career, which began in 2004. The last time he played first base on a regular basis was during his college career at Indiana University.
"It is nice that I played there before. It has been pretty easy, pretty smooth," he said of the move to first.
What does he have to focus on at a new spot on the field?
"My main thing is staying lower as a taller guy," said the 6-foot-5 Mahar, standing outside the Reading clubhouse prior to Tuesday's game against the Bowie Baysox, a Baltimore farm club. "That is the big thing I work on every day."
At the plate Mahar, who turned 28 on June 8, was hitting .282 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 174 at bats in games through Tuesday.
He also had six doubles, two triples, five steals and a slugging percentage of .443.
"I started off kind of slow (after) I had a good spring training," said the right-handed hitter. "I just need to be more consistent with my swing. I am not as streaky (at the plate) as when I was younger. I am happy with my swing right now. When I get hot, I get hot. When I get cold, I get cold. I need to even it out a little bit."
Reading pitcher Pat Overholt, the 26th-best prospect in the system according to Baseball America, said Mahar has been a solid addition to the team.
"I met him in spring training. He is a great guy to be wearing the same uniform as us. He let us know what it took to get there to the majors," Overholt said.
Benny Looper, assistant general manager/player personnel director for Philadelphia, said Mahar gives Reading a veteran presence in the clubhouse.
"You have a lot of different guys at that level, some of whom have big league experience," Looper said in a telephone interview from Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. "Anytime you have anyone with that (major league) experience, it can help."
Looper said Mahar was moved to first base due to his lack of range in the outfield. Looper noted Mahar still has power at the plate and if he wants to get back to the majors it would most likely be as a first baseman.
Mahar, who made his big league debut with Texas in 2007, was released by the Rangers in spring training the following year. He played with the Kansas City T-Bones in the independent Northern League for part of last season then was signed by the Phillies on July 18, 2008.
Mahar was assigned to Clearwater last year in the Class A Florida State League, where he hit .277 with two homers and 11 RBIs in 112 at bats.
Mahar began his pro career in 2004 after he was signed as a non-drafted free agent by Texas out of Indiana. He worked his way up through the Texas system and played in seven games for the Rangers in 2007 and hit .167 in 18 at bats with one RBI.
What is it like to be part of a new organization in the Eastern League, which stretches north to Maine and as far west as Akron, Ohio?
"It is different. After being in Texas for three, four or five years, you make a lot of friends," Mahar said. "This is the first time being out East since I started playing. But it is still baseball."
He said one of the few changes is that the Phillies are a little more strict on rules for shaving than Texas.
One advantage of being with the Phillies is that Reading, in southeast Pennsylvania, is about 90 minutes west of downtown Philadelphia.
David Montgomery, the president/CEO of the Philadelphia Phillies, recently saw a game in Reading. The Phillie Phanatic, considered one of the top mascots in the majors, is slated to be at the Reading home game June 23 against New Hampshire.
"It is cool having those people in town. It is a great place to play," Mahar said of Reading, which leads the 10-team Eastern League with an average of 5,823 fans per game.
If Mahar is promoted to Class AAA he will still be close to Philadelphia. The top farm club of the Phillies is in the International League at Lehigh Valley, in Allentown, about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
That is one more adjustment Mahar would not mind making.