From the moment Khalil Macklin stepped off the middle school field, he had the spotlight glaring back into his eyes.
He was a child prodigy of sorts, the third of a string of superstar siblings.
His sister Tiffany was a star on the softball field, and his brother, Xavier, continued his playing career into the professional ranks. Macklin was expected to be great from Day 1, but he wasn’t ready.
“I was immature,” Macklin said. “I was too hard on myself. I pressured myself too much.”
He was supposed to reach base on every at-bat.
He couldn’t commit an error – not one.
He definitely couldn’t strike out.
He was trying to go 6-for-4 every game.
Those were all hyperbolic beliefs of Macklin even before he reached high school.
“Right from the start, he was under the gun,” Nash Central coach Tony Guzzo said.
Slowly, Macklin matured.
He started believing that failure is a basis of baseball.
He recognized that the greats fail more than they succeed.
He moved to center field, and although he still loves to play shortstop, he wasn’t the focal point of the defense, something Guzzo believes helped Macklin’s mental stability at the plate, too.
“I think he really came full circle,” Nash Central coach Tony Guzzo said. “ ... It all kind of came together.”
Macklin even turned to his older brother, who advised him to just play his game, which in the younger Macklin’s own words is, “just get on base and steal ’em all and score.”
“This year for the first time, he felt like he could do it all,” Guzzo said.
Macklin did do it all, with his rare talents on display every game. The 2014 All-Area Batter of the Year continued to show a rare blend of speed and power, diving for catches in the outfield while hitting walk-off home runs. He added a new mentality at the plate, almost embracing his disappointments as much as his successes.
“I think it’s all about maturity and understanding that baseball is a game of failure,” said Macklin, who will play shortstop at Chowan next season. “If you can’t stand that, then the game is not for you. I just matured and accepted the fact that I was going to fail however many times out of 10. I just turned the page.”
Macklin refound his power stroke. He hit four home runs, including a walk-off to dead center against Riverside-Martin, a team that lost just three times all season. His early success affected his confidence. Suddenly, the kid who would crumble if he found himself in an 0-2 hole started embracing every situation, knowing that he could change a game with one swing.
“I found my swing,” Macklin said. “I found what I was comfortable with and what worked out: My type of swing. I just stuck with it, and it worked out the best.”
His teammates knew it too – even with Macklin serving as the Bulldogs’ lead-off man.
“The way other teams treated him, he knew that he was where everybody thought he was going to be – where he wanted to be all along,” Guzzo said.
Macklin finished the season with a .368 batting average, a .576 on-base percentage and 26 runs scored – all were team-highs.
His four home runs led the Big East Conference.
“That combination of skills doesn’t come along very often,” Guzzo said. “It is really hard to put into words how valuable that is. He acts like a couple people at their top skills.”
Macklin had those skills all along, he just never could put it all together until he changed his mental approach. This year, Macklin also became a leader on the team.
He pitched, even though he hadn’t thrown from the mound since middle school. As a four-year starter, he wanted to step into a new spotlight, one to which all the younger players looked for guidance.
For years, Macklin had heard the expectations. It wasn’t until he stopped listening that he was able to reach them.
“I’m never satisfied,” Macklin said. “I’ve always got to work on my game, but it really doesn’t matter what other people think because I’m going to have bad games and good games.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org