Washington, DC--In front of dozens of fans nattily attired in their Washington Nationals gear, Lastings Milledge spoke and took questions for about 40 minutes Tuesday afternoon before heading off to the stadium to prepare for that evening's game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In an event sponsored by ESPN Zone and the team's public relations department, Milledge was affable and personable, joking with the fans and the event's moderator, team play-by-play man Charlie Slowes. Milledge took questions on a wide variety of subjects from fans and from Slowes, fans answered trivia questions about Milledge for game tickets and after the Q & A, fans were invited to meet Milledge and have him autograph whatever memorabilia that fans brought. Milledge even autographed the red-and-blue leather Nationals recliner that the ESPN Zone provided for him to sit in during the session.


The Nationals' center fielder was quite candid with some of his answers to the questions presented. Slowes asked, "With all the juggling Manager Manny Acta has done to the line-up, does it matter to you where you hit in the order?" Milledge replied, "It doesn't matter," but then offered, "Where you hit [in the order] does affect your game." As an example, he said hitting in the fifth spot in the order is a run-producing spot, so he wouldn't necessarily bunt or steal from there.

About the outfield defense, in particular getting used to play with the corner outfielders: "That's what spring training is for. We should be able to play together now."

A particularly telling segment took place when Slowes asked how much different playing in the big leagues is than the minors. Milledge responded that he has had a hard time picking up the ball off the bat, and pointed out that high school and minor league stadiums are usually single decked, and with the upper decks behind home plate -- especially in center field -- he's had a difficult time picking up the ball until it rises above the upper deck and gets into the sky. He said, "with wood bats, it's real easy to get fooled," and from center field one "has to read the ball, and you have to see it to read it." He also went on to say he's not a fan of the "funky" outfields in the major leagues, such as Houston's Minute Maid Park or Philadelphia's Citizen's Bank Park, where the dimensions are not uniform.

A fan asked Milledge about the controversy surrounding Maple bats, and whether he preferred Maple or the traditional Ash bats. He indicated that he preferred Maple, because it's a hard wood and there's less preparation needed for a Maple bat. Players with Ash bats need to "hone" the wood, usually using a piece of bone or rock to rub the handle smooth and hard, and with Maple bats, players can just take it out of the box and go to batting practice with it. Slowes offered that maybe, "it's a sign of the times," that players prefer the convenience over the preparation. Milledge also noted that Maple "cracks from the inside," whereas Ash "crumbles and splinters," so a player can't tell when the bat is ready to break. He theorized that may be the reason, along with the thinner handles, why so may Maple bats seem to travel further and faster when they break.

Milledge got surprisingly introspective when a fan asked about the early season struggles for the hitters.

It's a tough game out there," he said. "It's a game of failure. It's mentally draining, I can tell you that. I think this is one of the only games that really, really affects your family. It goes beyond just 'Ok, game. You didn't do good, go home. If you don't come through, if you don't get a hit, it's not that your family don't think you can do it, it's just that they want you to do so well. They're used to you being an all-star, an MVP, high school player of the Year, and then you get to the major leagues where everybody has been there at that stage of their careers. It's a toll, man, it's a toll on your family. But this is what we want to do. It's a dream, and we've just got to roll with it."


There were humorous moments as well. When a fan asked if the team's success at home since the Pope said Mass was just coincidence, Milledge said, "He [the Pope] should come and throw out the first pitch." Another fan wanted to know if Milledge knew the last player to wear jersey number 44 to bring a title to DC, even prompting him with "he has a radio show in town, nickname was 'Riggo'"; but Milledge had to confess he knew nothing about John Riggins. To be fair, Milledge wasn't even born when John Riggins led the Washington Redskins to the Super Bowl.

2 comments

  1. griff // May 20, 2008 at 4:56 PM  

    Nice profile/interview. very well written!

  2. Anonymous // May 20, 2008 at 10:37 PM  

    could someone please tell me what the hell Dukes was doing tossing his bat at Lidge after working a walk in the 9th tonight?
    That was just weird. Is he unstable?