Four-year-oldCedric Mullinsstarted his journey to Camden Yards in his Snellville, Ga., backyard.

In the middle of his Gwinnett County city–partway between the bustling metropolis of Atlanta and the vibrant college town of Athens in North Central Georgia–young Mullins received a golf club set for Christmas.

“Instead of hitting the ball on the ground, I was tossing it up and hitting it up in the air to myself,” said Mullins. “I don’t know how I was doing that at four, thinking about how young that is. I went into tee-ball the next year and have played it ever since.”

Tee ball turned to coaches’ pitch. Coaches’ pitch turned into Little League. Little League led to a boy and his family taking a new life direction.

“At age 10, I started paying attention to the big league games,” said Mullins. “It just looked fun. Guys were out there having the best time of their life. Being grown men playing a kid’s game, you couldn’t ask for much more out of a sport. That’s when I fell in love with the sport in its truest form.

“My dad played a little when he was younger. My mom never liked baseball. She grew up more of a basketball fan, but she learned to love the game. She actually started keeping her own scorebook and that’s when she started to learn how in-depth the game was. She enjoyed that.”

Despite the love of the game and his family’s support, there was still uncertainty regarding whether baseball could be a potential career opportunity for Mullins. However, one quiet corner of the Tar Heel State provided a stepping stone.

“I played in a wood bat tournament with Perfect Game in Jupiter, FL.,” said Mullins. “I did okay in the tournament and Louisburg College was one of the first schools to talk to me. I was on the (varsity) team my junior year of high school, but a bunch of the other schools that possibly had an interest (in me) fell off the map for the sole fact that I didn’t get much playing time. Louisburg held with me.”

Louisburg College, a small junior college about 30 miles northeast of Raleigh with an enrollment in the triple digits, proved to be the right first stop for Mullins.

“They followed me during summer ball,” said Mullins. “During my senior, they came out to a few of my games. It was a great school in an area where I could focus on my academics without too many distractions.”

The numbers only confirmed that sentiment. During his sophomore season for the Hurricanes, Mullins racked up a .417 batting average, complete with 51 runs scored, 14 doubles, seven home runs, 33 RBI and 27 stolen bases.

Those gaudy numbers, and another timely encounter, brought Mullins about 70 miles south to Buies Creek, N.C. The current home of the Astros’ Class-A Advanced affiliate was also the stadium where Mullins would end up becoming a Fightin’ Camel.

“Louisburg actually played in a tournament held by Campbell University,” said Mullins. “That’s where they first got their look at me then. The coaches talked to me and they said if you were interested in continuing in a career, we have a place for you.

Photo by: Bert Hindman

“Again, not too many schools that I was interested in were trying to get me out of junior college, but Campbell caught my eye. I could still be in North Carolina, where I have family, so it was still a comfort zone that I could go back to if I had issues for whatever reason. It gave me everything that I wanted.”

A year into Big South Conference play and Mullins’ eyes turned towards the draft. The Baltimore Orioles kept in contact with the outfield prospect for a few days as the 2015 draft began, but that didn’t make the range of emotions go away at first.

“It was a weird feeling,” said Mullins. “I was just kind of a nervous wreck at that point. I was like ‘I want to start my career, but this could be the end of the line if it doesn’t happen.’ You just never know, but I finally got that call.

“I was in the house by myself. My brother was upstairs sleeping at the time and my parents were both at work when I was listening to the draft. The 13thround came around and I got the call and it was just a huge relief. A deep breath came out and I thought ‘this is finally happening.’ It was a fun experience, but it was hectic at the same time.”

Once the initial onslaught of congratulatory calls and texts came and went, Mullins began his journey as a professional. After spending 2015 in Class-A Short Season Aberdeen, the speedy outfielder posted his highest statistical season with Class-A Delmarva the following year.

In 124 games for the Shorebirds, Mullins posted a .273 batting average, driving in 37 runs while scoring 79 runs of his own. He also sprayed the ball all over the South Atlantic League, tallying 37 doubles, 10 triples and 14 home runs-all while stealing 30 bases.

This uptick in stats not only gave Mullins a promotion to Double-A Bowie in 2017 (skipping Class-A Advanced Frederick altogether), but also a bit of buzz from some outside prospect evaluations such as MLB and Baseball America.

In fact, Mullins enters 2018 as the No. 7 Orioles prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. It’s a results-driven industry, this professional baseball. The Baysox leadoff man hasn’t been phased, however.

“Being around a group of guys who have the same goals, you’re able to relate to them, push yourself and not let the outside world pressure you into losing your focus,” said Mullins. “We cheer for each other being the team game that it is. We push for each other so we can get wins on the board. When things are good, there’s no pressure involved and you can just have fun and enjoy your time together.”

As much of a process as it is to produce at a consistent level on the field, it also takes a process to build up a routine off the field when no one is watching in order to be prepared physically, mentally and emotionally.

“The physical aspect is pretty simple: you know what you’re going to do in order to get your body prepared for the upcoming season,” said Mullins. “The mental aspect is different. You’re in a situation where–especially for the first couple offseasons I had– you just really don’t know what to do with yourself. You’re sitting around, getting your workouts in, but then you question how I am really feeling (and) how I will really come about Spring Training and attack it?”

“It’s continuously said that if you come out of Spring Training healthy, you had a good Spring Training. At the same time, you want to see the results of your offseason show, at least in flashes. You want to go into the season with a little bit of momentum. With that being said, it can be a little challenging.”

Challenges have been interwoven in Mullins’ story going back to the days of Little League and wood-bat tournaments. Overcoming these challenges has been the consistent theme that has transformed Mullins into a player that Orioles fans and Eastern League opponents should keep an eye on.

“To all of a sudden get the rise in attention that I’ve gotten over the years hasn’t been that big of a deal, knowing where I’ve come from and where I’m at now,” said Mullins. “I’m keeping the same mindset as when I had no intention of being looked at, so I’ve coped with it pretty easily. You stay focused on the process and the results will follow. That’s how I’ve always gone about my business and I don’t think there’s added pressure because of it.”

By Robby Veronesi / Bowie Baysox