UNIVERSITY PARK — Eric Milton’s life has been about baseball for as long as he can remember. It still is.
Once one of the most feared pitchers in Centre County as a lefty at Bellefonte, Milton returned Wednesday to throw the first pitch as part of Bellefonte Community Night in front of 3,525 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park as the State College Spikes played the Lowell Spinners.
The 37-year-old former major league pitcher was also honored with a bobblehead doll in his likeness, but it seemed a stroll through memory lane was reward enough.
“It’s special,” Milton said. “It’s definitely special. Just coming back here. … It’s good to see baseball here locally, especially at the professional level. Seeing some of the faces that I saw when I was eight or nine years old when I was in Little League — it’s very special.”
Now, Milton is coaching baseball at Severna Park High School in Maryland.
“Once you retire, you kind of think about what you want to do, and baseball is my life so going back to coaching seemed like an easy decision,” he said.
After two seasons pitching at the University of Maryland — where he later returned to coach current State College Spikes’ lefty Jimmy Reed — Milton was drafted in the first round (20th overall) by the New York Yankees in 1996 and spent 11 seasons in the majors.
Perhaps most notable was the no-hitter he threw as a Minnesota Twin against the Anaheim Angels in 1999.
However, Milton said one of his fondest memories was being named an All-Star in 2001.
“Being in the All-Star game with one of my heroes, Cal Ripken Jr.,” Milton said. “It was his last All-Star game. That was a special moment to me.”
Wednesday was the first of the Spikes’ Local Legends Bobble Head Series Giveaways. Philipsburg-Osceola native Matt Adams will be honored July 31.
Adams, 24, is a first baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals and has caught the eye of Milton.
“You love seeing local guys make it big,” Milton said. “I wish him nothing but the best. He’s off to a great start … you wish him to be healthy … stay strong and be healthy.”
Health issues hampered Milton’s career in the majors but he said he emerged as a better pitcher when he could no longer rely on natural ability.
Those are lessons he wants to pass to his current high school players. After two seasons of coaching at Maryland, Milton said he wanted to spend more time with his family. Coaching lower levels affords him that flexibility and he might even get a chance to coach his son, who is coming up through the Severna Park system.
“It’s been a blast,” Milton said. “Get to be home a lot. It’s been fun. Love being out there on the tractor and taking care of the field, cutting the grass, doing the infield and coaching baseball. That’s my life.”