116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — It says something that his father being a former major league pitcher isn’t even the most interesting part of Bobby Milacki’s story.
Bob Milacki threw parts of eight seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners, then spent 19 years as a pitching coach in the affiliated minor leagues. He’s still involved in the game as pitching coach for the independent Idaho Falls Chukars.
Bobby Milacki, meanwhile, is pitching — and well — for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He got to high-Class A baseball in a very circuitous fashion.
“Sometimes it feels like I’m competing against my dad,” Bobby Milacki said. “I would like to be able to play as long as he did. One step at a time. I heard him admit that I throw harder than he did this offseason, which was exciting. But he still made it to the big leagues and at a much younger age. I’m already, like, two years behind where he was, so I’ve got some catching up to do. Hopefully I can get up there and say ‘Hey, I made it, too.’”
Let’s start from the beginning.
A 25-year-old right-hander, Milacki is an Arizona native who pitched one year of junior college ball in Kansas, then returned home to pitch the 2017 season for Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. That went so poorly, he was basically told he needed to find another place to continue his college baseball career.
That other place was Arizona Christian University, a NAIA school in Glendale, Ariz., with an enrollment of about 1,000. Milacki threw well enough to have the Washington Nationals (for whom his father was a minor league pitching coach) pick him in the 38th round of the 2018 MLB draft.
Milacki pitched in the Rookie Gulf Coast League in 2018 and for short-season-A Auburn in 2019 but was a casualty of Major League Baseball’s mass purging of minor league players in 2020, when there was no minor league season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Undeterred, he secured a spot in a temporary independent ball league called the City of Champions Cup in Joliet, Ill.
The league ran from mid-July to early September that year, created by the Joliet Slammers of the indy Frontier League. The Slammers were joined by teams called the Tully Monsters (Milacki’s team), the Chicago Deep Dish and the NERDS Herd (named after the candy).
Milacki went back to Joliet last summer to prepare for another season, only to have the Minnesota Twins call and offer him a contract in early June. Jared Gaynor, a former Kernels pitching coach, had coached Milacki in college and tipped them off about his availability.
“I was there for a week. Wasn’t actually even there a week,” Milacki said. “I made it through six days, then I got out of there. So it was exciting to get to come back to affiliated ball. I did a lot in that 2020 year to gain velocity. I was only, like, 90 to 92, maybe topping out at 94 when I was with the Nationals. Then, last year, I come in and I’m between 93 to 97, and my average fastball was what my max was with the Nationals.”
Milacki credited that improvement on working with his father during the pandemic. He changed his workout program, his body and his mechanics.
“I made a lot of adjustments, changed my program up in 2020 and didn’t give up the dream,” he said. “It was nice having him around. He’s been through it all, coached and played for 30 years in pro ball, so he knew the process. It was mainly just staying focused, keeping the same goals. Luckily, with him already being in pro ball for so long, we already had a home gym. Everybody was struggling to find somewhere to go work out (during the beginning of the pandemic). I was lucky enough to have something to go off of.
“I got stronger, put on good weight, worked on training to throw harder, and it worked out in the long run.”
Milacki pitched last season for low-A Fort Myers but saw his season end prematurely in late August because of elbow discomfort. It was discovered he had bone spurs that were causing an impingement.
He had surgery to remove them in October, a procedure delayed because his orthopedic surgeon was called for jury duty.
Isn’t this whole thing pretty amazing?
“Everything was baby steps,” he said. “I had some little hiccups in there, had some mental stress to where it was like ‘Am I ever going to get that velocity back that I had?’ So it was just a grind, and I’m happy that I made it through everything.”
Twins minor league pitchers reported to spring training in late January, with Milacki not being able to throw off a mound right away. He only got into three games but was, much to his surprise, assigned to start the season with the Kernels.
He has pitched in six games in a relief role for Cedar Rapids, has a 2-0 record and 0.00 earned run average. He has thrown 9 1/3 innings, given up just six hits and one unearned run, striking out nine.
“I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m here to start the season on time,” Milacki said. “And I’m excited about that.”
Comments: (319)-398-8258, email@example.com