Billy McMillon, the new manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, thought he found a spot in the major leagues when the Florida Marlins traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997.
Two years removed from his playing days with the Sea Dogs, McMillon joined a building team under first-year manager Terry Francona.
“I had been to the big leagues and I wanted to get back,” said McMillon, whose major league debut was the year before with Florida.
McMillon batted .292 for the Phillies for the rest of the season. He appeared to be looking good for the next year.
“But they wanted to get veterans,” McMillon said of the Phillies. “I was relegated back to the minor leagues. I had to wait for my opportunity.”
The wait took two more seasons.
McMillon returned to the majors in 2000 with the Tigers. He also played for the A’s. His career ended with an injury in spring training with the Red Sox in 2005. He had carved out a major league career of 269 games over eight years.
Now McMillon is a manager. When it comes to preaching patience and perseverance to his players, he’s already walked the walk.
“He’s been there and he can draw from his experience,” said center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who played for McMillon at advanced Class A Salem in 2012.
“It was exciting to come to the field with the energy he brought.”
The Red Sox haven’t always relied on former major leaguers to be coaches and managers. None of the previous three – Todd Claus, Arnie Beyeler and Kevin Boles – played in the majors. And the first Portland manager as a Red Sox affiliate, Ron Johnson, played all of 22 big league games.
But McMillion brings knowledge with his experience, as well as an ability to work with players.
“He’s done a terrific job for us,” Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington said.
McMillon, 42, will become the first former Sea Dogs player to manage the home team at Hadlock Field.
He will be in Portland on Friday for the annual Hot Stove Dinner, helping to promote the Sea Dogs in the offseason. He knows about promotion, visiting Portland at this time 18 years ago as part of the Sea Dogs’ Winter Caravan, which has been replaced by the Hot Stove Dinner.
McMillon’s first venture to Maine was to Orono in 1991 as a Clemson freshman. He helped the Tigers beat the University of Maine to earn a trip to the NCAA World Series.
McMillion, who grew up in Bishopville, S.C., didn’t figure to be playing big-time baseball, but a scholarship was offered at the end of his high school days and a career was in the making.
The Marlins drafted McMillon in the eighth round of the 1993 draft, and he found himself with the Double-A Marlins in 1995.
“He’s a natural hitter,” Manager Carlos Tosca said at the time. “He has a pure swing.”
McMillon used that swing to bat .313 with a .423 on-base percentage. McMillon doesn’t recall the numbers as much as the weather.
“I remember being really, really cold early,” McMillon said. “But a lot of fans came out to games, even in the bitter cold.”
McMillon moved to Triple-A Charlotte in 1996, when he got a call up to the majors, making his debut on July 26. Even before the game McMillon was awed, placed in a batting practice group of Gary Sheffield, Andre Dawson and Terry Pendleton.
McMillon played 28 games with the Marlins that year and only 13 in 1997 before his trade to the Phillies. That move didn’t work out and McMillon signed with the Tigers in 2000. He batted .301 in part-time duty.
McMillon bounced around from there, including a minor league season with the Yankees in 2002.
After two years with the A’s. McMillon signed with the Red Sox after the 2004 season. In his first spring training game, he separated his shoulder diving for a ball. He eventually had surgery and never played again.
McMillon left baseball and the Red Sox organization, but the door remained open.
“He impressed us with his intelligence and feel for the game during that time,” said Cherington, who was Boston’s director of player personnel at that time.
McMillon returned to Clemson and finished his degree in economics (he has since received his MBA). When he expressed interest in baseball again, the Red Sox welcomed him, assigning him to Greenville as the hitting coach in 2007.
After two years, McMillon was promoted to manager. Then came a promotion to Salem in 2011. McMillon discovered a passion.
“I get to stay around the game I love,” he said. “It’s really rewarding, especially when someone gets it, having an impact on an player’s life.
“The ultimate is seeing guys I worked with make it to the big leagues. In no way am I taking credit, but to think that something I did might have helped them in their development, that’s a pretty cool thing.”
That list of players, which began with Josh Reddick, is growing. Among the latest players are Xander Bogaerts and Bradley.
“He helped me mentally, for sure,” Bradley said. “It was my first full year (as a pro) and he said he just wanted me to play and not worry about anything else. He made it a very positive surrounding.”
McMillon and his positive style return to Portland. The player is now the skipper.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: