"I was born in Gary, Ind., but that was just because my uncle was a doctor there. I've never been to Gary hardly except to be born. I was raised on a farm outside Laconia, Ind., a town of 100 then. When I was 9 we moved to St. Petersburg, Fla. But at the end of each school year we would move to wherever Dad was managing a team—Dubuque, Iowa; Tampa; Keokuk, Iowa; Selma, Ala.; Burlington, N.C.; Rock Hill, S.C. And I would always be the bat boy and travel with the team. I had my little uniform and stayed in hotels with Dad. He liked having me; otherwise he'd have been rooming alone. I'd stay around Dad and talk baseball. It was hard to get him to talk about whether he was any good, though. 'Pretty good ballplayer,' he'd say, and wouldn't elaborate. Later I met people who said he was good. But they said I ran like him. 'You've got your father's speed.' they said. He was sort of known for not having any speed.
"He was built about like me but he was a line-drive hitter, only hit four home runs in the big leagues. He kept emphasizing to me that what they pay for is the long ball."
So Milt learned to hit the long ball against teams managed by his father. "I was playing for Gastonia, N.C. in '69, and Dad was managing Monroe, N.C. in the same league. I had 11 home runs the whole year and 10 of them were against Dad's team. One day I hit one—I had hit a couple against them the day before—so the next time up I expected the pitcher to knock me down on the first pitch. So he does, and I get up. O.K., I'm in good shape now. The next pitch was a foot behind my head! I got up and looked over at Dad and he was laughing. I found out later that he'd told the guy to knock me down twice. At the time I wasn't too happy about it. I was sort of mad. But looking back, it was pretty funny."
It was baseball, anyway, and that is what Milt wanted. "My mom always laughs about it—when I was 4 or 5 we were riding in the car and I said, 'Dad, what do you think I should be when I get too old to play baseball?' "
Pinky, as it happens, is working in a liquor store in St. Pete these days, but Milt hasn't had to face that question yet. And may not have to for a while. How can you keep a really good tobacco-chewing kid who hits with power out of the lineup, especially if he can catch some, too?