Apr 24, 2009 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Future superstar playing outfield for the Syracuse Chiefs at least for now:
The last time Lastings Milledge played baseball in Syracuse was April 2006 when he wore a Norfolk Tides jersey. A few weeks later, having just turned 21, Milledge made his major-league debut patrolling right field for the New York Mets.
He appeared in 59 games in 2007 for the Mets before being traded to the Washington Nationals where he played most of the 2008 season, hitting 14 home runs and stealing 24 bases. Just seven games into the National League season, however, after batting an anemic .167 with a lone run-batted-in, Milledge was demoted to the Syracuse Chiefs.
Although often accused of being immature and possessing a less-than-positive attitude, the 24-year-old took the bad news professionally, vowing to work hard and get back on the track to the major-leagues.
“I’m trying to really find myself (here in Syracuse) and to get back to the way I was last year in the big leagues,” he told a reporter. “I’m going to treat this like a rehab assignment.” Though he admitted he was “disappointed” to be sent to the minors, Milledge took it philosophically.
“I realize baseball is more a business than anything else,” he said.
Baseball’s increasingly corporate mindset makes it tough for a colorful character such as Lastings Milledge to comfortably settle in.
During his first season in The Show, Milledge upset Mets manager Willie Randolph by high-fiving fans at Shea Stadium to celebrate his game-tying home run against the San Francisco Giants. Later that season, a veteran player taped a message to Milledge’s locker: “Know your place, rook!”
In 2007, Milledge appeared on a rap recording called “Bend Ya Knees” by Manny D, a childhood friend from Florida. The song contained words such as “bitch” and “nigga,” prompting the Mets to issue a disclaimer: “We disapprove of the content, language and message of this recording.”
On April 5 this year, Milledge showed up late for a team meeting the day before the Nationals’ home opener. It was his birthday, he explained. On Opening Day, a fly ball hit by Florida Marlins infielder Emilio Bonifacio sailed over Milledge’s head for an inside-the-park home run. The next afternoon he failed to catch another Bonifacio fly that fell in for a triple.
When Milledge’s demotion was announced, Nationals acting GM Mike Rizzo insisted that character issues had nothing to do with the move. It was simply a matter of Milledge improving his game at Syracuse, the executive said.
Milledge made his Chiefs debut here April 17 against the Buffalo Bisons, the new farm club of his old team, the Mets. He smiled and jived with his teammates during pre-game warm-ups and dutifully signed dozens of autographs for fans.
If he’s got an attitude problem, he’s sure doing a good job of keeping it to himself. While his emotions remain under control, Lastings’ game clearly needs fine-tuning.
Bisons southpaw Casey Fossum made Milledge look silly in his first plate appearance at Alliance Bank Stadium, enticing him to swing desperately at a super-slow curve for a strikeout, but the kid came back to whack an RBI double off righthanded reliever Eddie Kunz in the eighth. The Chiefs won 3-1.
The next day, with the Syracusans wearing Nationals-style red jerseys for the first time ever, Milledge singled, walked and stole a base in a 6-3 win.
On Sunday the Chiefs won again, though Milledge went 0-for-4.
Though he had been playing center field in Washington, Milledge has remained in left so far here, while Justin Maxwell and Corey Patterson alternate in center.
As soon as Milledge regains his batting eye (he has whiffed four times in 11 at-bats), he’s sure to tag some long balls and drive catchers crazy as he races around the bases.
And before long, he’ll be back in the nation’s capital continuing his quest for superstardom.
Chiefs face PawSox April 28-29
The Chiefs play in Buffalo this weekend before returning to Alliance Bank Stadium at 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday April 28-29, against the Pawtucket Red Sox. Ticket prices range between $4 and $10; parking costs $4 per vehicle; 474-7833; syracusechiefs.com.
Will bus rides motivate Milledge?
Chris Needham, who reports for NBC Washington, recently blogged about the nationals;’ decision to send Lastings Milledge to the Salt City.
“I hear Syracuse is beautiful this time of year. The snow’s almost halfway melted, and the melt has washed a bunch of the rock salt off the road.
“This might just light a fire under Milledge’s butt. Nothing else has motivated him so far.
“Maybe all he needs are a few Syracuse bus rides to motivate him ”