Milligan's outfield test illuminated

April 10, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

It was only one game, and the box score indicated it was insignificant, but Randy Milligan's outfield education advanced to another level on Opening Day.

And tonight, when the Orioles meet the Chicago White Sox at Memorial Stadium (7:35, HTS), will be yet another learning experience. You can call spring training a crash course, but moving from first base to the outfield requires more than breaking in a new glove. Two days ago Milligan played the outfield in a big-league park for the first time. Tonight he gets to do it under the lights for the first time.

Before he becomes comfortable with the transformation, if he ever does, Milligan realizes there will be a lot of firsts. "I'll have to make an adjustment in every park," he said after yesterday's off-day workout.

Milligan acknowledged that playing in the hinterlands in a double-decked stadium for the first time was different than what he was doing during the exhibition season in the chummy parks of Florida. It is one of the biggest adjustments any outfielder has to make when moving up to the major leagues.

The sight and sound of the ball coming off the bat can play tricks on even the most experienced. "It [the second deck] affected me a little bit," admitted Milligan. "You lose sight of the ball for a while.

"But Curt [coach Curt Motton] and the other guys told me not to worry -- that it will come back out of the crowd. And most of the balls hit like that are in front of you, so it's easier to pick them up."

But that isn't an overly encouraging thought the first time a ball disappears.

Even though he wasn't a noted defensive outfielder, Motton is probably an ideal tutor because he understands the anxieties. So far he feels his chief student -- Milligan -- has done everything that could be expected of him.

"Based on my experience when I first came to the big leagues, I think he's handled himself very well," said Motton. "The hardest part of it is mental. I'm not saying the physical part is easy, because it isn't, but the problems come in the mental aspect.

"I know that early in my career I worried about not making a play that might cost us a game," said Motton. "There were times when you might think somebody else would have made that play. But then I would make some plays people didn't think I was capable of making. I came to realize I was going to make most of the plays I could make -- and some that maybe I wasn't expected to make.

"I don't think Randy's quite gotten to that point, but he's real close. He'll get to the point where he'll make the plays he should make, and some you might not expect.

"But the only way he's going to get that confidence is to make the plays. And the only way he's going to do that is with experience, by playing games. He's not going to get there overnight. I think it will take 50 or 60 games."

One reason, as Milligan pointed out, is that it will take that long to see all the parks in the league from the outfield, instead of first base. Each one is different. Each one has its own little peculiarities.

Milligan freely admits that he's not as comfortable in the outfield as he'd like to be. "Not yet," he said when asked if he feels more relaxed each time he goes out there.

"It takes time," said Motton, "but Randy is a good athlete. There's no doubt in my mind he can handle the physical part."

So far Milligan has had no trouble separating the offensive and defensive parts of his game, something the Orioles will watch closely. "He hit very well in spring training," said Motton, "so the change obviously hasn't disrupted him so far.

"Some guys get so focused at the plate that they can block everything else out of their minds. I think Randy can do that. I'm extremely optimistic that he's not going to carry his defense with him to home plate."

Being among the most popular players on the team shouldn't hurt him, either. He's built a loyal following, which means the fans may be more patient than normal.

But that's not a given, either, as any professional athlete can attest. What Milligan is undergoing they call on-the-job training, a polite way of describing the trial-and-error method.

And in this case it's most important that the hits outweigh the misses -- and that the first grade isn't issued until the quarterly report card.

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