Like many of you, I've been paying a lot of attention to other stories of interest around the league. Let's face it, these last few months of watching the Mets have left a void that needs to be filled.
One of the more interesting stories has been the ups and downs of Lastings Milledge.
At one time he was slotted in as a Mets "can't miss star" of the future. He came up quickly, tried to make a splash with his play and his words, the fans treated him like a rock star, and he was promptly smashed down by his teammates for a number of reasons that included his brash and cocky attitude.
If Milledge was the proverbial nail that was sticking up, Billy Wagner and several other vets were willing hammers ready to smash him down.
He was then traded in a controversial move to the Nationals for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, and his career took a decided turn south.
In a sub-par 2008, Milledge struck out 96 times in only 523 at-bats while putting up a 91 OPS+ and displaying more of the maturation issues that got him into trouble with the Mets.
After opening 2009 as the Nationals starting rightfielder, Milledge was sent to the minors just two weeks into the season after arriving late for a team meeting.
He was sent a very clear message. The Nats manager at the time, Manny Acta, damned Milledge with faint praise after the demotion:
"Lastings is going through what a lot of players go through, where they go down at times like this," he said. "We're still . . . I'm still a big fan of Lastings. I think Lastings is going be a good player. I told him on the message that I was pulling for him, and I'm anticipating him being up here again and making a contribution."That contribution came in the form of a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates acquired outfielder Lastings Milledge and reliever Joel Hanrahan for outfielder Nyjer Morgan and reliever Sean Burnett to the Nationals.
The trade was supposedly another one-sided deal in which the Pirates gave up too much for too little. Nyjer Morgan was an immediate hit with the Nationals, while Lastings was sent to AAA.
But then two things happened: Morgan went to the disabled list and Milledge was called up to Pittsburgh after blistering AAA pitching to the tune of a .333 batting average.
After being called up on July 31st, Milledge has continued to rake.
He has a .325 batting average and a 119 OPS+ in 33 games for Pittsburgh. Moreover, he's batting a gaudy .463 over the last 14 days.
Milledge himself credits his success with his own personal happiness.
"It really is a dream come true to play for the Pirates," Milledge said. "With growing up in Bradenton and the Pirates having held spring training there forever, I always thought it would be cool to play for them. I was hoping they would draft me out of high school and was disappointed when they didn't. So when I found out I got traded to the Pirates I was very excited. It's been a great experience so far being in this organization."So while the jury is very much still out on Lastings, I'm personally very happy to see him playing well. Milledge is a solid baseball talent with maturity issues, and I still believe the Mets should not have let him get away.
"I've done some things I'd take back but I'm a little older and wiser now," he said. "You also can't believe everything you hear or read about someone. Some of the things that have been put out there about me make it sound like I'm the worst guy in the world but that's not the case.
"I like to smile, have fun, and joke around with people. Some people think you're not allowed to do that in baseball. That's the way I've got to be, though. I play the game better when I'm relaxed and having fun."
Milledge's attitude has not been an issue since the Pirates acquired him, though, and he has seemed to assimilate well into his new organization.
"He's been a good teammate and he's worked very hard," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He's done everything we've asked."
As to whether or not he's truly "figured it out", no one truly knows. That said, a strong finish to 2009 could lead to a very big 2010 for Lastings.
|2009 Season Stats|
|Last 7 days||6||22||3||8||3||0||0||3||2||5||0||0||.364||.400||.500||.900|