Milledge trying to last as long as he can

Milledge trying to last long in bigs

PHOENIX -- There's a fun story behind the strange first name of Lastings Milledge, that energetic and enthusiastic rookie outfielder who has burst on the scene for the Mets over the last few weeks.

He was the third of three sons born to his mother, Linda, who gave his older brothers more traditional names -- Tony and Gregory -- but had grander ideas for Lastings.

"The last child," Milledge said this weekend as the Mets pounded the Diamondbacks, outscoring them, 37-9, in sweeping the four-game series. "I'm the last of the three. My mother said there wasn't going to be anymore."

That signature first name is legal and is no joke, Milledge said.

"You can call me Last, Lasto, Lastings, kid, rook, it doesn't matter," he added.

Just as long as the 21-year-old from Florida lasts in the Major Leagues.

That's really the point, isn't it? Milledge was called up from Triple-A Norfolk on May 30, when incumbent right fielder Xavier Nady had to have an appendectomy. Since then, he's hit .256 (11-for-43) with three doubles, two triples, two homers, 10 runs batted in and had more fun doing it than he could have imagined.

Nady, though, has begun his rehab and is about 10 days away, manager Willie Randolph said Sunday. Cliff Floyd, the regular left fielder, has a sprained left ankle and is expected back on Tuesday when the highly-flying, first-place Mets open a three-game series at Philadelphia against the Phillies, their closest rivals in the National League East.

For Milledge, the body crunch isn't good, which means no matter what the righty-swinging hitter does, he could be facing a return trip to the Minor Leagues unless something changes between now and then.

"Most likely, most likely," Randolph said. "But then again, he may get on a tear the next week and a half, just go crazy and makes us stop and think about it. Right now, Nady is my right fielder. The kid's going to be here and hold the fort down for a while, and when Nady comes back, we'll take a look at it and go from there."

Milledge knows there aren't any guarantees and Randolph hasn't offered him any. He's just another rookie trying to strut his stuff and make it in the Major Leagues.

"I don't know yet," Milledge said about his short-term possibilities with a club that has a comfortable 6 1/2-game lead right now over the Phillies. "I'm just here to play hard. It's Nady's job. I'm just trying to fill in and show the manager and the front office that I can play the game with intensity. You never know."

But this he does know: he has to put up better numbers than this past week. Milledge has only two hits in his last 16 at-bats, including a two-run triple in Sunday's 15-2 crushing of the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Compounding that, Milledge is only 7-for-28 since he hit that tying, 10th-inning homer on June 4 at Shea Stadium against the Giants that caused so much tumult.


"When you're a rookie, you can't do things like that. You have to know your place or you're begging to get hit in the neck."
-- Barry Bonds

Moments after teeing off on an Armando Benitez fastball for his first Major League blast, Milledge stepped out of the Mets dugout down the first-base line and spontaneously slapped hands with the fans along the railing as he returned to his station that day in right field.

Milledge at first apologized and later retracted the apology. He told MLB.com this weekend that he just overreacted to the "biggest home run I've ever hit in my life."

"That's what I did. It's over with," Milledge said. "I told everybody I wouldn't do it again until my last day, until I retire. It was cool. I was really excited. I just wanted to show some love. That was about it. It was blown out to be more than what it really is, but things can get like that."

The moment was entertaining and out of the ordinary for the staid world of Major League Baseball, but inside their dugout, the Giants, who won the game in the 11th and then returned to San Francisco, openly seethed. The kid had shown them up.

"When you're a rookie, you can't do things like that," said none other than Barry Bonds, who with 716 homers is second on the all-time list, 39 behind Hank Aaron's all-time leading 755. "You have to know your place or you're begging to get hit in the neck."

Randolph let Milledge enjoy the moment and then calmly pulled him aside for a lecture about the rules of baseball decorum. That little chat was overblown by the media, Randolph said, but the second-year manager admitted that he told the youngster the obvious.

"What he did is what he did, but there's an etiquette," Randolph said. "I guarantee you if we were playing the Giants the next day, he would have gotten one in the ribs. He didn't think about that. But as his manager, I have to school him on the reality of the game."

Milledge obviously beats to a different drummer. His hair is braided and flows from his cap to the nape of his neck, each braid knotted at the tip by a black bead. He was an elusive interview subject, preferring to sit in his locker, listening to music through oversized headsets than talk.

"I'm just enjoying my free time," he said.

Ultimately, though, he acquiesced and was a delightful subject.

Randolph laughed when he was told about the gesticulations Milledge went through, spending more time trying to avoid the interview than actually doing it.

"He has his own way of doing things," Randolph said. "He already is starting to get the reputation that he's cocky and arrogant and all that. But he's just another kid trying to find his way. That's all."

Randolph, a number of scouts attending the Arizona series, and 47-year-old teammate Julio Franco, all agreed that Milledge is green and most certainly must learn the rules and reality of the game.

Franco, the oldest player in the Major Leagues, said he pulled Milledge aside after watching him explode in the dugout after a recent strikeout and tried to calm the kid down. Randolph said Milledge works hard and is a sponge for all kinds of information from the coaching staff and the veteran players. Franco also found that to be the case.

"I told him, 'If you strike out and you're not happy about it, there has to be a reason for it,'" Franco said. "And he said, 'It was a bad pitch. That's the reason.' So instead of getting mad, find the reason for it and then take it from there. Learn from it. If you get mad, you don't use your head."

With Floyd and Nady out, Milledge has started in both left and right fields, turning some plays into an adventure. On Thursday night in Arizona, for instance, he let a fly ball pop off his glove and then snared it one-handed before the ball hit the ground. He is lithe, quick and stands about six feet, but he's an unvarnished surface.

"He's an exciting kid," said Deacon Jones, a longtime scout for the Orioles. "Like all kids, though, they need to have patience with him. He's pretty rough around the edges."

Randolph has been around long enough as a player, coach and manager to know. He's seen many more promising prospects go by the wayside than ones who have made it. So far, then, he's reserving his opinion, saying Milledge shouldn't be viewed as anything more than he really is: a talented rookie making his first tour of the Major Leagues.

"Until he plays consistently for a long time, you'll never hear me talking about him like he's the next Willie Mays or anything like that -- it's not my style," Randolph said. "Even if he does well in the time he's here, I'd be excited about it, but I'd take it with a grain of salt because he's too young. He's got too much to go through."

Milledge's mother had the foresight. Now the Mets will see if her third and last son leaves a "lastings" impression, so to speak.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.