You know the day is coming. You try to adjust to the idea of retiring from major-league baseball and figure maybe you're ready to stop playing. Still, it's hard, says former Orioles right-hander Milt Pappas.
"It was difficult. No matter how much you tried to program yourself," says Pappas, who played 17 years, eight full seasons in Baltimore. "It was a nice life. All of a sudden that comes to an abrupt halt."
Pappas, who turned 55 last month, has been out of baseball since 1974, when he was released by the Chicago Cubs after 3 1/2 seasons. He was released in March, and as he recalls it was not until June of that year that "I realized I've got to do something."
He was living in Wheaton, Ill., at the time, having moved from Baltimore to the Chicago area in 1970. Through a friend, he found his way into the wholesale hardware business, and is still in it.
He works as Midwest sales representative for Jett Supply, a Midwest and West Coast distributor of nails and screws. Four years ago, he moved to Beecher, Ill., a farm community 40 miles south of downtown Chicago, where he lives with his wife, Judi, and their 9-year-old daughter, Alexandria. People still occasionally recognize his name, if only to ask whether he's related to Erik Pappas, who played a few games for the Cubs in 1991 and started this season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He is not related to Erik Pappas, who was not born Papastegios, as in Miltiades Stergios Papastegios of Detroit, the kid who graduated from high school in 1957 and signed with the Orioles because he figured it was his quickest route to the majors. It was. Almost too quick, he says.
As an 18-year-old happy just to be standing around a major-league bullpen, Pappas figured he would make a low-key debut with the Orioles, maybe pitch against the Kansas City Athletics or Washington Senators before a few thousand spectators. Pitching coach Harry Brecheen had another idea: get us through the top of the eighth against the New York Yankees with about 45,000 on hand at Memorial Stadium in July 1957.
The Orioles were five or six runs behind, so the pressure was not as great as it could have been as Pappas faced his first four major-league hitters: Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and Enos Slaughter. As Pappas recalls, he gave up a single to Mantle and retired the other three on two grounders and a pop fly.
Pappas pitched in four games that year, then played eight full seasons in Baltimore, winning 110 games and losing 74. In December 1965, he was one of three players sent to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Robinson. Pappas then bounced to the Atlanta Braves and Cubs.
Then came life after baseball, although Pappas never cut his ties to the game. His most recent pitching assignment came last weekend in St. Louis during an Upper Deck Heroes of Baseball game, and he frequently appears at card shows. He also has become a White Sox fan, an affection he developed as an Orioles pitcher when he compiled a 17-4 record against Chicago.