Severna Park slugger Milton is player of the year

Azielonka@baltsun.com

Kody Milton's first memories of baseball were set at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, where as a child he got to roam the field before Reds games. His father, Eric Milton, pitched in the major leagues for four teams over 11 seasons, including the Reds for three of Kody's formative years.

Baseball runs through many people's bloodlines. That's easy to claim. It's more of a challenge to find a father-son baseball duo as successful as the Miltons.

Kody, Severna Park's junior third baseman, is the Capital Gazette Communications Player of the Year. His father just completed his fifth year at the helm at Severna Park, coaching the Falcons to a memorable county championship season to earn the Capital Gazette Coach of the Year honor.

The Falcons' slugger led the county in several offensive categories, namely a whopping .580 batting average, 11 doubles, six home runs and 32 RBIs. Add two triples and 35 runs for good measure, and you get a pure offensive threat who's almost guaranteed to have an impact in any game.

Defensively, Milton mans the hot corner for the Falcons, after he moved over from first base following his freshman year. He also stepped onto the mound for a total of seven innings of mop-up pitching throughout the season.

But in addition to Milton's supercharged numbers, assistant coach Bob Felts sees him as a mature presence in the dugout, though not a "boisterous leader" or a "rah-rah" guy.

"He picks everyone else up and makes them work harder," Felts said.

Besides that, Felts believes when Milton starts to rack up hits, his teammates hit as well — in other words, it's contagious.

"I've been around baseball a long time, man," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

So Milton was both centerpiece and leader-by-example for a Severna Park team that brimmed with talent — five Falcons were named first-team All-County. The Falcons went 22-3, 15-2 in Anne Arundel, and reached the state semifinals for the second time in three years.

But as successful as they were, they had stiff competition from Chesapeake and Arundel at the top of the standings, and they entered the final week of the regular season knowing they would need to win their final four games to make it to the county championship game.

The team rose to the challenge, winning four games in four days by margins of two, three, one and three runs, against strong opponents like Old Mill, North County and Chesapeake.

"Everyone was having fun, but we knew we had to step it up. We got a lot more serious during that time," the younger Milton said.

The week began on May 1 with the Falcons falling behind Old Mill early in the game. As Felts recalls it, Milton bashed a two-run home run late in the game to tie it, and then another homer to give Severna Park the come-from-behind win, 8-6.

Severna Park also came from behind to beat Chesapeake May 3, 3-2. Milton later called that game "the biggest game of our season."

That week of wins secured Severna Park's place in the county championship game, and their reward was a rematch with the Cougars for their third showdown of the season. The Falcons completed the season sweep with another 3-2 win to take the county title.

"We know [Chesapeake's players] really well. We're friends with them and hang out with them and stuff, but that was the one team we wanted to beat three times," Milton said. "We knew they're up there at the top with us, and we just knew we had to beat them if we wanted to be successful."

Later, the team had little trouble advancing to the Class 4A state semis, where their season concluded with a 4-3 loss to Howard.

Severna Park advanced slightly further two years ago, during Milton's freshman campaign, when they reached the state championship but lost the game to Gaithersburg.

The elusive state title certainly will motivate Milton in his senior season.

"No one else on the team [now] was on the team my freshman year when we lost, but I don't like that feeling. That's terrible," Milton said. "I don't want to go and end my high school career on a loss."

"I think [a state title is] everyone's goal, but there's few teams that can say that's actually a realistic goal," added his father. "I think for Severna Park, it's a realistic goal to win a state championship, and that's ultimately my goal as a coach."

Even as a freshman, Kody Milton was a "stud," Felts said. Eric Milton had been head coach for two years by the time his son tried out as a freshman, and Felts remembered the father worrying he would look biased if he picked his son for the varsity team.

"The rest of us looked at each other thinking, 'If he's not on varsity, he'd be wasting his time on JV,'" Felts said.

Severna Park athletic director Dave Lanham wasn't worried about the arrangement, either, when he hired Eric Milton as head coach in 2013.

"I've had much more success with parent coaches who come in before their son or daughter comes in," Lanham said, as opposed to coaches who start the same year as their children.

In 2016, Milton committed to the University of Maryland. When he gets to campus in 2018, he will have followed the two previous Capital Gazette Players of the Year, Tyler Blohm and Truman Thomas, who also play for the Terps. More importantly, Milton will be playing for his father's alma mater.

"Since I was little I always wanted to go there. It was my dream to go there," Milton said.

Before that happens, he has one more year of high school to finish and one more year of baseball to play. Right now, Milton is playing summer ball for his club, Evoshield Canes, which has games as far as North Carolina, Florida and Arizona. Then it'll be back to school, and in addition to planning for a state title triumph in 2018, Milton said he wants to pitch more often as a senior.

But baseball isn't the only thing on the young man's to-do list. Father's Day is approaching, and considering all the upcoming road trips with the Canes, Eric Milton thinks that weekend might be the only one his family is free all summer.

They anticipate celebrating Father's Day at Bethany Beach in Delaware, where Kody likes to surf and fish.

"A relaxed weekend, for once," Eric Milton said.

Kody is clearly looking forward to that too. Family seems to be the one thing up there with baseball for this father and son. Of course, even when these two are away from the diamond, "baseball" and "family" tend to mean the same thing.

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