Jan. 13, 2009

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Nine Innings with Justin Milo

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


Jeff Samardzija starred in college football and college baseball for Notre Dame. Andrew Brackman painted the corners and filled the paint for NC State.


Meet Justin Milo, a not-so “ordinary” two-sport star.


Milo, a junior at Vermont, holds the distinction of excelling on the ice and on the diamond. These days, Milo is skating for the Catamounts’ hockey team, which is 12-4-3 and seventh in the latest polls after a win and a tie against defending national champion Boston College. The former two-way player from Cornell is tied for third for Vermont with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists).  Milo, a forward, is tied for the team lead with four power-play goals.  


When the hockey season is complete (the Frozen Four is April 9-11), he’ll trade his skates for spikes and give the Catamounts’ baseball team a big mid-season lift. A year ago, the outfielder batted .328 with six homers and 40 RBI in 50 games. He tied for third in the country with eight triples.


Milo, the first player to play hockey and baseball at Vermont since Tom Quinn in 1993, dropped the gloves for a few minutes to catch up with CollegeBaseballInsider.com about his double life.


First Inning - Which is more difficult, hitting a home run or scoring a goal?

Both are very difficult. Hitting a homer is very tough but I’d have to say scoring a goal is more difficult because there are five guys trying to hit you at the same time.


Second Inning - Which is a bigger thrill for you?

A hockey goal celebration is a lot of fun, but seeing the ball land over the fence and then trotting around the bases is a great feeling, too.


Third Inning - Why did you head to the East Coast from Minnesota?

My dad grew up in New York City, and I really like the East Coast.  The schools in the east were more receptive about playing two sports as well.


Fourth Inning - What are the similarities in playing baseball and playing hockey?

It’s all about having good hands and good hand-eye coordination.  Taking swings with a bat strengthens the forearms, which helps shooting, and vice versa.  I think baseball players that have a hockey background are the best players in baseball, at least in the north. Several of my UVM baseball teammates were very good high school hockey players.


Fifth Inning - Besides being on ice, what is the biggest difference in the two sports?

Hockey is a contact and collision sport at a constant fast pace. You have to react quick and keep your head up since the other team is trying to hit and hurt you.  Baseball is also intense but more mentally. The pace is slower so you need a different focus.


Sixth Inning - Will you practice with the baseball team this winter during hockey season?

I’ll try to get out there as much as possible.  It’s tough because the start of baseball is around playoff time for hockey.  During hockey season, I’ll try to hit a few times a week to get my swing down. Our indoor practice facility for baseball is also next door to the hockey rink. I get in baseball moods where I need to swing the bat.


Seventh Inning - Do your baseball teammates attend hockey games? Do your hockey teammates come out to baseball games?

Baseball guys come to the hockey games because it’s a fun thing to do at UVM and is well attended by a lot of students. A lot of the hockey guys come out to the baseball games. It is interesting that many of my baseball teammates work at the hockey games on the event staff and many of my hockey teammates are on the Centennial Field grounds crew from the spring through the Lake Monsters season in the summer.


Eighth Inning - Do you have any down time during the year?

Not too much.  I had only about nine days of winter break this year.  While the hockey guys take a break after the season, I go straight to baseball.  Playing sports and doing schoolwork takes up all my time.  But that’s the way I’ve always done it.  It’s a lot of fun. 


Ninth Inning - Who is your favorite pro hockey player and your favorite pro baseball player? Why?

For hockey I’d have to say Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, who is a UVM alum, or New Jersey’s Zach Parise, who is also from Minnesota and went to the same prep school (Shattuck St. Mary’s) as me.  For baseball, I also have two, Justin Morneau of the Twins, who played hockey growing up, and Boston’s Dustin Pedroia. I’m not a lot bigger than St. Louis and Pedroia and it shows that little guys can play the game at a high level. 


Extra Innings - If you could play professionally in one sport or the other, which would you choose?

My goal has always been to play in the NHL, but now I’m going to have to say Major League Baseball.  I get chills whenever I walk in to a major league ballpark. I played at Fenway Park last year in the New England College All-Star Game, and it was big thrill for me. Especially playing in left field in front of the Green Monster. The Hockey East semifinals and championship game are also in Boston at the TD Banknorth Garden. It would be pretty neat to be able to play at both Fenway and the Garden.


What hurts more, getting hit with a puck or baseball?
It always depends on the spot you get hit and in hockey we wear a lot of pads.  I would say a baseball hurts more, but the pitcher will never be able to tell.

Hockey is a rough sport played with a lot of emotion compared to the slower pace of baseball. Is it tough to stay mellow in baseball?
It's tough at times because you can't go out and hit someone like you can in hockey.  It is also too hard to play baseball uptight and mad, so I try to let stuff go.  Baseball is the perfect sport after a long, tough hockey season.

(head shot courtesy of University of Vermont)

(hockey action shot by Thom Kendall)

(baseball action shot by Brian Jenkins)