Nineteen years ago Billy McMillon patrolled left field at Hadlock for the teal-striped Sea Dogs of 1995. It was the sophomore season for a nascent franchise in a town that had been bereft of professional baseball for more than four decades, since the Portland Pilots sailed away following the 1949 season.
McMillon’s edition, then affiliated with the Florida Marlins, was the first to deliver a winner. The inaugural Sea Dogs of ’94 finished 21 games under .500. McMillon & Co. ran away with the first of three consecutive Eastern League North titles, finishing 30 games over .500.
Now he’s back at Hadlock, the first former player to return as manager of the Sea Dogs, with an opportunity to deliver a winning season for the first time since 2008.
In his playing days, McMillon was a smooth-swinging left fielder who rarely showed extremes of emotion and always seemed to make solid contact at the plate. In his one season in Portland, his 162 hits led the league. He was also a solid fielder, with 14 outfield assists good for third in the league.
Post-Portland, he saw big-league action with the Marlins (1996-97), Phillies (1997), Tigers (2000-01) and Athletics (2001-04), usually as a fourth outfielder. He batted .248 in 269 games and spent one full season in the bigs, split between Detroit and Oakland in 2001.
As a manager?
Only time will tell. Outwardly, he remains the same friendly guy, a little thicker around the middle and thinner on top. For Thursday’s chilly home opener, he left his warm-up jacket in the dugout to coach third base and, when arguing two calls (one a possible trap in center field, the other an apparent hit-by-pitch on a bunt attempt) never lost his cool.
“I try to give reasonable arguments out there,” said McMillon, who figures he averaged half a dozen ejections per season in previous two-year managerial stints in Class A Greenville, S.C. (South Atlantic League) and Salem, Va. (Carolina League).
“He’s definitely very low-key and even-keeled,” said Sea Dogs pitcher Mike Augliera, who played for McMillon last season in Salem. “He makes it a lot more relaxed than other managers might. You can approach him for anything, baseball-related or not.”
Second baseman Mookie Betts, another Salem alumnus who was named the Eastern League Player of the Week on Monday, said McMillon’s recent playing experience helps him relate to his players.
“He thinks like we do,” Betts said. “He has a knack for knowing when we’re tired or playing hurt, when we need to take infield or when we need to have a show-and-go. I think he’s really good at knowing how we feel.”
In a dozen professional seasons, McMillon played for a variety of different managers, including a few, he’s convinced, “didn’t know who I was.”
So he makes a point of getting to know his players as people. At age 42, McMillon can act as surrogate uncle or older brother.
“We can have a good time and relax and get our work done without it being such a drill instructor/recruit type of relationship,” he said while sitting on a bench outside his office beneath the right-field stands before a recent game. “There are times you need to be firm with a player, so I’ll do that. I’ll tell them what I see and I won’t mince words, but I’m not about denigrating the player or making him feel bad.”
In addition to baseball experience, he has life experience: a wife (Krista), daughter (Kennedy, 12) and son (Jackson, 9). He FaceTimes with his kids every day, often waking them before school in South Carolina. He usually knows their grades before they do, thanks to automatic emails from teachers.
“I’m as involved as I can be,” he said, “1,500 miles away.”
This year actually mark’s McMillon’s third visit to Maine. Prior to playing for the Sea Dogs, he helped Clemson win the 1991 NCAA Northeast Regional playoff tournament in Orono. The Tigers beat Maine in the final, 13-5, to reach the College World Series.
McMillon remembers making a catch from his chest after slipping in the outfield – “I just threw up my glove and caught the ball” – and the late spring weather – pleasant and warm. Not like the Hadlock opener, where strong winds made early-April temperatures seem bone-chillingly cold and prompted McMillon to don long johns under his uniform pants.
Drafted as a junior, McMillon continued to take classes when possible and eventually earned his degree in economics before his playing career was over. Thanks to Facebook, he stays in touch with a bunch of those ’95 Sea Dogs, including Pookie Wilson, Rey Mendoza and Chris Sheff. Last month in Florida he crossed paths with another ’95 teammate, Mike Redmond, now manager of the Miami Marlins.
“The basic set-up is still the same,” he said, looking around at his old Hadlock haunt. “But I don’t remember the bleachers here (in right field). The video board is new. And I don’t remember it being cold.”
Ah, the mind plays such tricks. Then again, those ’95 Dogs seemed perpetually hot. Their 86 victories remain the most in franchise history.
McMillon had a hand in setting that record. Perhaps he’ll have a hand in breaking it.
As much as he enjoyed his time in Maine two decades ago, McMillon doesn’t plan on putting down roots. Like his players, he has aspirations beyond Double A. His goal is to manage in the majors.
“I think I’ve got a chance,” he said. “I’m relatively young. I’m moving up a little bit. I don’t know if I’d want to do this – being away from family and friends, freezing my butt off and having seven-hour bus rides getting in at 6:30 in the morning – if I didn’t think I’d get a chance to go to the big leagues.”
He rubbed his eyes and scratched at the whiskers on his chin. He has traveled this path once before. No reason why he can’t do it again.
This story was updated at 8:10 a.m., April 15, to correct the year Clemson won the NCAA Northeast Regional playoff tournament in Orono.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: