GOODYEAR, Ari. - Standing at 6-feet-6 inches and armed with a fastball that hits the mid-90s, Jordan Milbrath seems to have a pretty big advantage when it comes to hurling a baseball past anyone who stands in the batter's box.
The only problem is, Milbrath is now firing the aforementioned fastball at professional hitters, and he's learning that it's not as easy as it was at some earlier levels.
Just two months into his minor league baseball career, the Springfield native is learning first-hand the challenges of being a professional baseball player.
It's not like he's struggling at all. A couple of rough outings in early August shot his ERA up from around 2.0 to 4.7, where it sat as of August 15. But he's in the middle of re-learning some basic techniques aimed at a more effective delivery with more consistent results, and he's all for learning as much as he can in this brief stay of only a few months.
Milbrath was selected by the Cleveland Indians June 7 in the 35th round and was assigned to the Rookie League squad in Goodyear, Arizona. The Rookie League sees mostly players out of high school, a couple of years younger than Milbrath, who is 22-years old in his first season of professional baseball.
Milbrath's typical day begins when he arrives at the ball park at 1:30 p.m. He might lift weights, depending on when he pitched last, or sometimes he'll grab a bite to eat and stretch to get ready for that night's game.
12 strike outs
16 innings pitched
The team usually takes batting practice at 4:30 p.m. and that usually lasts about an hour. After that, he's free to get his pre-game meal and game time is at 7 p.m.
Crowds at the games are very small. Milbrath pitched in the Northwoods League this past summer before being drafted, so he's used to bigger crowds than what they get at the Rookie League level.
"For me, the crowd doesn't bother me, I played in the Northwoods [League] and at Augustana, and we'd usually have people at our games," he said. "Here its different. It's a game, but it feels more like a scrimmage because you're learning and you're out there to do your best. It doesn't matter how many people are in the stands, you all get treated the same."
Before being drafted, he played for the Rochester Honkers in the Northwoods League. It's a league made up of college players from all over the country and some of those players get drafted to play professionally.
"Down here in Arizona, I would note that they're younger," he said. "We have a lot of draft picks that were high schoolers. The Northwoods was a collegiate league and these kids are just starting out in their baseball career. I would compare [the leagues] it pretty similar. The Northwoods has a lot of guys who are experienced and have a lot of at-bats, and down here there's a lot of inexperience but they're very talented and you can just tell they're learning every day."
While he's learned quite a bit about the sport from his high school days, the game of baseball is one that you learn new things almost every day from playing.
"I'm learning things that I didn't really know, mechanically and mentally too," he said. "We study and we have classroom some days. We study the game mentally and we go over things over and over again."
The stress of Minor League baseball is tough. But he's able to stay relaxed for the most part.
"For the most part, everyone is pretty much laid back," he said. "Baseball's a game of failure and I guess everyone who has made it this far realizes that. Most of the kids prior to this have had all kinds of success. But they learn, they're going to struggle right away and they know that. In two months, you see everyone just progress.
"It's a privilege to be down here and I love it down here, but it gets mentally tough some days, as any job will, especially when you're working on some things and everything is not going as you want it to go," Milbrath said. "I guess you just gotta stay working at it every day. It's tough, because you know you're not going to throw strikes every time. It's different and it takes some getting used to."
The Arizona Indians are the third team he's played for this year. He started the spring at Augustana before playing in the Northwoods League. Now he's working with his third different coach, so he's trying to soak in as much pitching knowledge as he can.
"Every pitching coach, or coach in general has their own opinion," Milbrath said. "I guess what I try to do is keep an open mind and learn a little bit from everybody. Honestly, being on all these different teams, it's been nice to get their perspective and pick and choose what feels comfortable. It's great, because all of the coaches I've had, they want me to succeed and it's worked out great for me."
The regular season will come to an end at the end of August. After that, Milbrath may or may not be invited for a special instructional league in September. That camp runs about a month, and for now, that's Milbrath's big goal as far as progression and climbing the ladder.
Getting better is the goal for Milbrath and his fellow teammates. Wins and losses don't matter as much as learning from your mistakes, and he knows that.
"For me it's been a totally new experience," he said. "When you get down here, you're always trying to work on something and you're always competing. It's not all about winning and losing at this level, it's about getting better and improving as a player so that you can move up. We all want to make the Majors."
While he's living the dream of playing professional baseball, the saying goes there's no place like home. He doesn't want the experience of this year to end anytime soon, but he knows it'll be nice when he does get to head back to Springfield once the season is over.
"It'll be nice to see everybody for like a week or so and then hopefully come back down here and keep getting better," he said.