“I’m very proud of that. We all work hard at growing the game around here.”- Mike Milligan on the Grass Valley men’s fastpitch league.
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – Mike Milligan took up pitching when he was 39 years old in 2000. Now 47, he has developed into one of the best NAFA A-Major pitchers in Northern California.
Milligan beat eventual champion, A1 Rockies, in the winners’ bracket final, 6-0. He fired a four-hitter with eight strikeouts and a walk. And was in command the entire game.
“He’s got a good rise and drop and knuckle ball,” said All Star Auto manager Tom Allen after the game. “He is a tough gamer.”
In the championship, the Rockies won an eight-inning thriller to set up a second, winner-take-all contest. Milligan got the start and pitched superbly, not allowing any earned runs in a 2-1 loss.
Milligan held the Rockies to three hits with four strikeouts and a pair of walks.
Let’s learn about this right-hander who throws all the pitches – riser, drop, change-up and knuckle ball (and he throws that knuckler with zip on it).
How did you get started pitching?
The old timers were starting to get hit pretty hard back in 1999, so a buddy and I decided to try to pitch. Those old timers were my hero’s.
How did that go?
I never thought I could pitch because I had such an average arm when it came to velocity. It was more like a fantasy camp where we would just pretend to be pitchers. Which was the reality because those old timers wouldn’t really let us throw. I don’t blame them, we were terrible.
How did you finally get time in the circle?
We decided to start our own team made up mostly slowpitch players, including myself. We lost a few games by 20 runs, but within a year or two we were winning league championships. I was hooked. So much so that my wife and I quit our jobs and opened a baseball and softball supply store in our town. Then came batting cages and lessons. We lived ball for the next few years.
You took a break from the sport, why so?
In 2008 the recession came. We fought for five more years then closed the store for good. After that we both needed a break so I took four years off from playing ball.
What got you back into fastball?
My friend’s fastball team was losing a lot and it was killing him, so I came out and was hooked again immediately. Now I’m the old timer.
What’s the league like in Grass Valley?
We have one of the biggest league’s in Northern California. (The league is believed to be the longest running west of the Mississippi, with about 60 years existence.) The greater Sacramento metropolitan area is 1.2-million people. Yet NO FASTBALL LEAGUE. The Grass Valley and Nevada City area has about 60,000 people and we have a 10-team league.
I’m very proud of that. We all work hard at growing the game around here.
You play for All Star Auto, what do you like about pitching for them?
Our current All Star Auto travel team is made up almost entirely of Grass Valley league players. So that’s pretty cool.
All Star Auto finished second in the 16-team A-Major Division. Your thoughts on playing in the tournament?
The Vegas Road Trip was a tournament that most of us thought might end up being a two and barbeque situation. We had just been moved up a division from last year and we were missing a few key players. But we kept winning and ended up second. Exceeding most of our expectations.
Most pitchers leap (crow hop) but you don’t. Why is that?
I have never crow hopped in my 17 years of pitching. A very good pitcher and a very large man told me last year: “If you’re not crow-hopping, you’re not trying hard enough. So this year I set out to be a hopper.”
How did this change in pitching style affect you’re results?
Every pitch I threw in practice was the crow hop. The first game in Vegas I gave up no hits with the crow hop. But, I also had about six walks. And (my) rythm of the game was terrible. I wasn’t able to throw a strike when I needed to, so I decided to go back to dragging my toe.
“Even though I had not dragged on even one pitch in practice all year, it was like an old pair of perfectly broken in shoes. My location came back and so did that rythm of the game thing. I’ll always be a dragger I guess.”