This was during lunch one day last off-season. The way Randy Milligan figured it, he was either headed for salary arbitration, or headed for another team. Frustrated and confused, he told his agent how desperately he wanted to stay in Baltimore, "to give something back."
Today, Milligan remains in a tenuous position with the Orioles, but his plans to help inner-city youth can no longer wait. He and his wife ReNee established the Randy Milligan Charitable Fund, and starting tomorrow Baltimore becomes a better place.
It's one thing when a superstar with a long-term contract undertakes a major charitable endeavor. It's quite another when a marginal player commits so heavily to a city that isn't his hometown, and might not be his residence beyond this year.
"I'm not having a great season. I know that. The fans know that," Milligan said this week. "More than ever, it seems like it might be tough [to return] next year. But you never know what's in store. It's something in my heart I had to do now."
Tomorrow, he begins. He again figures to be the subject of trade speculation this winter. He might even be left unprotected in the expansion draft. But in his adopted city, kids keep getting shot in the street by drug dealers. For Milligan, enough is enough.
The Randy Milligan Baseball Festival starts at 10 a.m. at the Pikesville Hilton. It will include autographs, grab bags, a live auction and children's games. Mike Devereaux is one of six Orioles who will attend, along with Hall of Famer Frank Robinson and Oakland pitcher Dave Stewart.
The festival will benefit the Forest Park Little League, but the Milligans aren't limiting their efforts to inner-city baseball. They're so idealistic, they'll work with any group that demonstrates an ability to improve the "moral, educational and physical development" of inner-city kids.
Milligan, 31, is from San Diego, and lived previously in Virginia, but he became a full-time major-leaguer in Baltimore. This season he's earning $1,050,000 to play first base for the Orioles. The city, he said, "gave me everything that I have."
These days, he's batting .252 with only eight homers and 39 RBI. His .399 on-base percentage ranks fifth in the league, but the Orioles need more out of their No. 5 hitter, so much more. Glenn Davis is playing, David Segui is waiting. As usual, the count on Milligan is 3-and-2.
It's a shame, for he's the kind you want around forever.
The average major-leaguer is more comfortable discussing Randy Bush's batting stroke than President Bush's domestic policy, but Milligan can't help but notice the nightly horrors on the local news.
"I hate to say it, but it's my people being affected most," Milligan said, referring to the black population. "Somebody has to try to make a difference. There are people out there who do. I just can't sit back, watch these things and do nothing."
He can donate money -- more than $20,000 thus far -- and he can donate time. The Orioles, of course, lead the league in charity-minded players, but Milligan is less prominent than Cal Ripken, Glenn Davis and Rick Sutcliffe. It will be more difficult for him to make this work.
Not to worry, his fund is being administered by the Baltimore Community Foundation. His agent, Mike Powers, already is talking with the right people, people like homeless advocate Bea Gaddy and Joe Erhmann, founder of the inner-city ministry, "The Door."
There is talk of a black-tie dinner in November. A card show in January. Plans, and more plans. Milligan has been involved in numerous volunteer activities as an Oriole, but this is his and ReNee's baby.
"The ideas come from my voice," he said. "But she makes it work."
"For years, we've been toying with this," said ReNee, a third-year law student at the University of Baltimore. "Even when we had absolutely no money, we thought, 'Hey, when we make it, we just want to give a little bit back.'
jTC "This is the first place we've been in that we've called home. Baltimore has given a lot to us. We want to turn around and do something for the future of Baltimore. We all know the future is kids. That's why we chose inner-city youth."
Optimism aside, the Milligans need a contingency plan if the Orioles indeed part with Randy. Their hope is that other black Orioles -- Randy mentioned Mike Devereaux, Sam Horn, Alan Mills, Arthur Rhodes -- would manage the fund each year until they return in the off-season.
Ideally, it never reaches that point. Ideally, Milligan remains an Oriole into the next century. The pennant race is exploding, but this weekend, save a cheer for the Moose.
His revival would be a blessing for the team. His return would be a blessing for the city.