Pitcher Garrett Milchin’s teammates know when their season is going to start. That would be Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, when the Florida Gators take on Marshall at McKethan Stadium.
Milchin isn’t certain when his will get underway. But when it — maybe, probably, hopefully — does, what a mound moment, what a comeback story, it will be.
“It will mean a lot,” said the junior from Windermere. “I don’t know if it will be emotional or not. Obviously, it’s been two-and-a-half years, it’s been a long time. It will be really exciting, for sure. But I’ll just take it as it comes, whenever that day is.”
Milchin has not thrown a pitch in a game since June of 2017. It came in the College World Series. On that pitch, what would be his final competitive pitch for the next two-plus years, he felt something pop in his elbow.
“I knew whatever it was, it wasn’t good,” he said.
He took himself out of the game. Then after the CWS, which the Gators won, Milchin underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow, which meant a long arduous recovery that would end his 2018 season.
He felt confident about returning a year ago, but the injury re-occurred and he had to have a second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow that wiped out his 2019 season.
One Tommy John surgery is tough. A second takes it to another level.
“Obviously, it’s not fun, it’s not easy,” he said Thursday. “It’s been tough, just pretty much living in the training room with the physical therapists and always being in touch with doctors. It’s not what you hope for when you come to a program like this.
“You’ve got to make the most of the hand you’re dealt. I just love playing. Obviously, the last time I was able to play it was an unbelievable year (in which the Gators won the national championship). Just kind of getting that taste. Being able to get back in a situation like that keeps me going. I’m still excited to come to the field every day.”
Milchin has come a long way over the past 12 months and has gone through a lot of rehab while also keeping his nose in his school books. He graduated in December with a degree in economics.
He’s throwing again, going through progressions that he expects will lead him back to the mound at some point this season. But he’s not quite ready to make that next big step that will put him back in the game after being gone for so long.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “I’m getting pretty close. I don’t have an exact timetable at the moment, but I’m getting a lot closer than I was. It’s very exciting. I should be good to go sometime pretty soon, I’m hoping.”
When he does come back, it may or may not be an emotional moment for Milchin. But it almost certainly will be for his teammates, who have come to admire him and respect him for his determination and perseverance.
“Garrett is a really good guy,” starting pitcher Jack Leftwich said. “He’s had tough luck with the injuries. The one thing everyone appreciates about him is he’s always in here working hard and never complaining.
“I’ve never heard him complain once about not being able to play. He’s had it worse than most people have. It’s kind of cool to watch that. If we’ve got something little going on, we know he’s got a lot more going on, not being able to pitch for a couple of years. It’s inspirational for most of us.”
Milchin’s difficult two-and-a-half year run seems to have given him a unique perspective on injuries and what the game means to him.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You’ll definitely have days where you get up and say, ‘I just don’t know if I have it in me today.’ Usually, I try and expand my view on what’s going on and look at it as more of a team goal.
“Just because I can’t be on the field playing right now doesn’t mean I can’t help us win in some way. I really want to win. I always have. I’ll do what I can to help the squad.”
For now, he’s doing it with attitude and work ethic. Maybe, probably, hopefully, he’ll be doing it on the mound at some point this season.
“You can’t ask for a better kid,” starting pitcher Tommy Mace said. “He’s always got a smile on his face, cracking jokes. He works harder than anybody.
“I’m excited for him hopefully to get back this season and throw. I can’t wait for that — for him and for our team.”
Florida opens the 2020 baseball season Feb. 14 against Marshall at McKethan Stadium.