By Brian Mickelson – March 8, 2020
I’m on vacation in California as I’m writing this article and just finished a walk with my mother. As we strolled down the street where I grew up for a little exercise mom mentioned that “Coach” Millward had passed away.
My mind automatically went back to a very short, but important moment on a pitching mound at Keating Park in the middle of the 1980s. Coach Millward is at the center of that memory. There are a few moments in your young life that stick with you and strengthen you and I love sharing this one.
For context you should know that I wasn’t a gifted baseball player as a kid. I was good enough for city-league baseball seasons. I could hit the ball and catch and play most positions but I just wasn’t strong enough to be a power hitter.
Trying out for the high school baseball team didn’t even cross my mind, which was too bad because I absolutely loved baseball. I loved the Giants, hated the Dodgers, and looked forward to every summer full of wiffle-ball home run derby, pick up baseball with pals, and having games every Wednesday night and Saturday morning for months on end.
As my friends started hitting puberty (and I was adeptly dodging it) it became apparent that I was going to have to play catch-up in certain sports that involved either height or muscle, or learn to cheat (sorry Astros fans...too soon). My teammates were all getting larger or I was getting smaller.
Pretty frustrating at times. But I was quick (so I could steal bases) and got on first base often because my strike zone was smaller than the average 14 year-old. Also, I was decent with my glove so I could play a few different positions in the field and, therefore, reasonably useful on defense.
For some reason, season after season, I was one of our pitchers. The other pitchers in the league were bigger, stronger, and could throw some pretty sweet junk, and I didn’t have any of those advantages. I could hit the catcher's mitt ok, but that was about it. I gave up a lot of hits and runs during my illustrious career.
Coach Millward was my coach when I was really young and then again when I was about 14 and for some reason, he pegged me as one of our pitchers and let me start our games every once in a while. It was stressful and I felt bad for our team when I pitched.
Our fielders were going to get a workout almost every time I threw the ball toward the plate. It wasn’t my favorite position and being pulled out of the game after two or three innings didn’t do much for the old self esteem.
Knowing my baseball background will help you appreciate the following moment.
One afternoon, about 30 minutes prior to a game I was going to pitch in, I was warming up on a practice pitching mound just outside of the third base line foul fence. Coach Millward was standing behind me, watching me pitch but not saying anything.
Quite abruptly he yelled for the entire team to hustle over to the mound I was on and then ordered the group to watch me throw. Honestly, I had no idea if I was in some kind of trouble or if I was doing something right. The whole team watched me throw about three pitches to the catcher, then Coach Milward stopped me.
As the team quietly listened, Coach said (something along the lines of): “Are you guys seeing this? Do you know why Brian can throw the ball so hard? Do you know where the velocity is coming from? He’s using his entire body to throw the ball and he’s throwing harder than almost every one of you. I want each of you to watch Brian throw a few more pitches and then do what you see him doing!”
I couldn't believe it. I was the example the other players were supposed to watch, at least according to my coach. To my knowledge, that had never happened before (and I don’t recall it ever happening after). I’ve never forgotten how that felt. I didn’t go on to be one of the great pitchers of Vacaville little league baseball fame.
Chances are I didn’t even pitch that well during that game. But Coach Millward made me feel like a valued player by pointing out a very specific positive characteristic and being very verbal about it.
Educational and religious leader Neal Maxwell taught that praise should be deserved and specific. I may not have deserved the specific praise I received, but I’ll always be grateful.
Rest in peace, Coach. Thank you for the compliment.