Brian Milner flew to Philadelphia last week, sat behind home plate at Citizens Bank Park, and was finally back in the major leagues.
The father of Phillies rookie pitcher Hoby Milner zoomed to the big leagues in 1978 without spending a single day in the minors. Brian Milner, then 18 and a seventh-round draft choice, played just two games with the Blue Jays and was shipped to their rookie-league team. The catcher never climbed back.
The extent of Milner's major-league career was just nine at-bats, in which he had four hits. He played five seasons in the minors and never advanced past double A before retiring at 22. His son grinded for six seasons in the minor leagues before calling home last Tuesday. Hoby Milner was headed to the show. And so was his dad — this time as the father of a big leaguer.
"I was going to go to Arizona State and play football and baseball. The Blue Jays drafted me and said 'Hey, we'll put you right to the big leagues.' What kid wouldn't take that piece of bait on the hook," Brian Milner said. "It worked out how it worked out with injuries and what not, and I wasn't able to get back up. But I'd do it all over again."
The Phillies season is lost, but the final three months will be used to evaluate who among the current crop can stick as part of the future. Milner makes an interesting case. He could find a future as a left-handed specialist. The 26-year-old had success this season at triple A with a sidearm delivery that adds funk and deception to his pitches, which rarely reach 90 mph. He struck out two in Monday's seventh inning, the second appearance of his major-league career.
"He was technically never my coach. He was just a dad," Hoby Milner said. "But one-on-one, he helped me out quite a bit. Helped me mentally a lot. He was a catcher, so he doesn't know much about pitching mechanics and all that but he knows a lot about pitch sequencing and what hitters are looking for. He obviously knows what it's like to get called to the big leagues. It's a little different for me to get called to the big leagues."
Brian Milner's quest back to the majors was plagued by injures. He needed elbow surgery after that rookie-league season, when his manager was John McClaren, who is now Hoby Milner's bullpen coach. He had two knee surgeries, a hernia, and even carpal tunnel syndrome. He never made it back to the big leagues but managed to spend 20 years in baseball. Milner was a minor-league coach and instructor with the Yankees, and he helped guide Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera on their way to the majors. He then scouted for 12 years with the Cubs.