Traveling to Elon, North Carolina was normal for Kenny Mallory Jr. when he was growing up. The current Elon sophomore always returned to campus with his parents, as they were supportive alumni of the university who attend homecomings and athletic events.
Going back to Elon this year was special for Mallory Jr., though. He would return to campus as an outfielder for the Elon University baseball team after transferring from Vanderbilt University. Since joining Elon this year, Mallory Jr. started in 35 games, accumulating 30 hits, 28 runs and five stolen bases.
But before playing for the Phoenix, Mallory Jr. never thought he would be following familiar footsteps — his father. Kenny Mallory Sr. ’94, played for Elon baseball as an outfielder from 1992 to 1994. Today, Mallory Jr. is doing exactly what his father did for the Phoenix 29 years ago.
The long ride
Growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia, baseball was always a major part of Mallory Jr.’s life. He was a student-athlete at Mountain View High School and was a three-time all-state selection in baseball. During all of this, he also played travel baseball. His father helped coach him during his younger years in t-ball and little league.
“As soon as I could walk, I automatically had a ball in my hands 24/7. I was always throwing and kicking the ball,” Mallory Jr. said. “But once I got older my dad was like, ‘Hey, do you want to try baseball?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure’, and I just never turned back from there.”
When Mallory Jr. reached the high school level, he planned to continue baseball into college and play for bigger schools, which is how he ended up at Vanderbilt University in 2021. During his recruitment process, though, Mallory Jr. said his father always told him to keep Elon in the back of his mind.
“When it came down to it, he wanted me to be happy wherever I was at, no matter if it was Elon or anywhere else,” Mallory Jr. said. “He wanted me to go somewhere where I could fit in and enjoy the game and try to become the best baseball player I could.”
Mallory Jr.’s time at Vanderbilt only lasted a year — he played in three games his freshman season before he realized he wanted something different. He made the decision to enter the transfer portal.
“I wanted to go somewhere small, somewhere where I can grow and play and not have this fear of, ‘I need to perform well or I’m not going to play,’” Mallory Jr. said. “I wanted somewhere where I could grow and get mentally tough and not have that pressure on me all the time.”
The need for a smaller school not only brought Elon to mind, but also the idea that it would be possible to follow in his dad’s footsteps and play for the Phoenix.
Mallory Sr., who transferred to Elon in 1992 after playing for a junior college, led the team in that same season with 43 runs scored. He also met his wife, Kym Mallory, at Elon who played volleyball for the Phoenix. When Mallory Sr. learned that his son wanted something new, it was only a matter of reaching out to an old contact – head baseball coach Mike Kennedy.
Finding a familiar face
Kennedy and Mallory Sr. first met when Kennedy became the graduate assistant pitching and catching coach at Elon. Kennedy returned from playing professional baseball with the Oakland Athletics and spent two seasons in their minor league system before coming back to Elon in 1993. Although Mallory Sr. was an outfielder, he said he learned a lot from Kennedy.
“He worked with pitchers and catchers but just being able to talk to him and pick his brain — it gave us a good friendship,” Mallory Sr. said.
When Mallory Jr. entered the transfer portal, he first spoke with Kennedy about transferring to Elon. Kennedy said he always put pressure on Mallory Sr. to have his son play for Elon.
“I told him, if things don’t work out at Vanderbilt, he's always got a home here,” Kennedy said. “I think the world of Kenny Sr. and obviously Kenny Jr. and how they raised him. He's a terrific kid — I knew that watching him for a while.”
Kennedy immediately took Mallory Jr. under his wing when he joined the team, but what made this easy to do was the connection they already had.
“It was pretty cool to be able to watch him grow up a little bit,” Kennedy said. “We obviously knew that he was a good player and was developing to be a really good player.”
The friendship between Kennedy and Mallory Sr. only strengthened after his son committed to Elon. Mallory Sr. said he would often return to campus to catch a few baseball games and spend time with Kennedy over the years. Kennedy said that coaching both Mallory Sr. and Jr. has been a special experience for him, and that the two have similar personalities and playing styles.
“The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Kenny Sr.'s as good as they come and Kenny Jr.’s just like him,” Kennedy said. “I think the biggest difference is Kenny Jr. bats left-handed and Kenny Sr. is right-handed, but they’re both good players and do a lot of good things.”
Always a Phoenix
Mallory Jr. said his initial transition to Elon was challenging, but as he grew more to love campus and his teammates, he knew he made the right decision.
“It's been an amazing experience,” Mallory Jr. said. “I have 40 new best friends that I feel like I've known for forever.”
Since his transfer, Mallory Jr.’s skills and sportsmanship have stood out to Kennedy. The two have always been connected, and now Kennedy gets to see him play and grow firsthand.
“His character sticks out like a sore thumb,” Kennedy said. “He's such a good kid. He's such a hard worker. He does it the right way. He's an unbelievable teammate. He truly truly cares about the success of the team and his teammates. His personality is infectious, he’s supportive whether he's in or out of the lineup. That's such a great trait to have.”
Mallory Sr.’s support for his son has also grown. Now, when he returns to campus to support the university, he sees his son playing on the field.
“It's pretty special to see him grow as a person and as a baseball player,” Mallory Sr. said. “For him to do this and to be successful and to get a degree from Elon and play for a coach I played for, it's really a special feeling for me and my family.”
Through it all, Mallory Jr. said having his dad’s support is the most helpful thing as he continues playing the game he loves, following in his father’s footsteps.
“He understands that this is a difficult game and I'm doing my best at all times,” Mallory Jr. said. Sometimes the results will show at a time, but he just keeps encouraging me to keep going and things will come.”