Saying it was "my dream and my dad's," Severna Park's John Milisitz reached an agreement yesterday to play baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers. He signed as a free agent and embarks on a pro career Friday.
Milisitz, whose father died of cancer during Milisitz's high school freshman year in Florida, moved to Severna Park three years ago and soon became the premier catcher in the metro area. It was a position he hadn't played until moving here. Well aware that pro catching prospects are few and far between, the 6-foot, 190-pound Milisitz dedicated himself as a sophomore to becoming the best. He credits his Severna Park legion coach LTC Jim McCandless for his rapid development.
This spring as a senior at Severna Park High, Milisitz did not allow a county runner to steal a base on him. Batting .500 with 25 RBI and six homers, he set a state public school record with 15 career homers.
"I really think my dad had a lot to do with the way I progressed the last three years," said Milisitz, 19. "I know he had something to do with all this."
Milisitz, the Baltimore Sun's All-Metro and All-Anne Arundel County catcher, leaves for Chandler, Ariz., Friday to play with the Brewers' Rookie League team.
After not being chosen in the recent major-league draft, Milisitz accepted a baseball scholarship to UMBC.
That all changed last weekend when Ron Rizzi, the Brewers' East Coast scouting supervisor, watched Milisitz, playing for the Columbia Reds' 20-under team, have a great day against Corrigan's.
"It boggles my mind that no one drafted this kid," said Rizzi, who began negotiating with Milisitz Sunday evening and came to an agreement yesterday that includes a college education and a bonus.
"We had him at a special invite camp last August with 20 to 25 of the top high school kids from a five-state region and John did everything well. I put him on our list of high school players to see, but unfortunately this spring, our scout in the area who was to see him did not."
Rizzi said that on Sunday he watched Milisitz "throw a rocket to second base [nailing a would-be base stealer], hit two balls well over 400 feet, one of them about 450, and catch a great game."
That performance and lavish recommendations from Walter Youse, the Milwaukee special assignment scout who runs Corrigan's, and his third-base coach Mel Montgomery, a Brewers' associate scout who is head coach at Old Mill, convinced Rizzi that Milisitz is pro material.
Rizzi, responsible for more territory this spring, could not see Milisitz himself and was relying on another scout. That scout saw Chris Junghans of McDonough High in Charles County this spring, and the Brewers made him their highest drafted catcher on the 10th round.
"We're not going to sign Junghans and have committed to John and one other high school catcher in Josh Zwiser of Akron, Ohio," Rizzi said. "The two will split the catching duties in Chandler and are the only two young catchers in our entire minor-league organization.
"We think he's a big-league prospect, love his make-up and hard-nosed attitude, his arm, bat speed and pop, and he has no fear of making it. When I asked him about signing, his answer was, 'when do I leave?'
"I can't tell you everything we gave him, but he got more than an undrafted free agent would normally get. We gave 100 percent of his college education and five years to do it." The 80-year-old Youse, who has been a pro scout (Orioles, Angels and Brewers) for more than 50 years, said that Milisitz is "like a lot of them who end up making it because they can play and it makes no difference if they were drafted."
One such player is Glen Burnie's John Stefero, a Mount St. Joseph grad who signed as an undrafted catcher in 1979 with the Orioles and made it to the bigs.
"I'm really excited and determined to make it," said Milisitz.
"My mom is excited that I've been given the opportunity and believes I will make it. I wasn't that good a player as a kid growing up in Florida, but my dad and I always joked about me becoming a big-leaguer one day. Now I've got that chance."
That chance came on Father's Day.