NRI Milone: 'Honor' to get Opening Day nod

Southpaw recounts incredible journey from just trying to make roster to starting season opener

July 23rd, 2020

Roughly a week and a half after arriving at Summer Camp, Tommy Milone took the mound against his teammates at Oriole Park, retiring 15 of the 16 hitters he faced in intrasquad play. It had been more than four months since Milone signed a Minor League deal with the Orioles, and the nine-year veteran was looking to catch on with his seventh team. He still didn’t know if he’d be on it.

“I think, until I’m officially told I have a spot, I have to assume I’m still competing,” he said on a Zoom call with reporters the next day. “The only thing I can control is going out there and pitching and that’s what I’ve been trying to do -- to leave little doubt in their mind to me being in that rotation.”

How quickly things have changed for Milone and the Orioles. The next day, the Orioles informed Milone he’d made the team and had been added to the roster, seemingly to slot in as the club's No. 5 starter. A week later, he is set to take the ball on Opening Day against the Red Sox in Boston, thrust into the honor due to John Means’ lingering case of left arm fatigue.

There are all kinds of journeys leading to Opening Day. But a journeyman on a Minor League deal to throwing the season’s first pitch? That’s a rarity -- and Milone is relishing it.

“I don’t know the last time a non-roster invitee made an Opening Day start,” Milone said. “I don’t know if that’s something that will be in the record books, but I’m excited for the opportunity and ready to get going.”

Just how historic the situation is remains unclear. But it’s certainly rare company now joined by Milone, who enters the season 50-47 with a 4.47 ERA in 174 career games (136 starts) for the Twins, Athletics, Nationals, Mets, Brewers and Mariners. He went 4-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 23 games for the Mariners in 2019, starting six games and entering the rest after openers.

“It’s obviously one of those things where it’s probably going to be the only time that it happens,” Milone said. “So you’ve got to take it as that and just be really excited about it.”

Recounting how he informed Milone of the news, manager Brandon Hyde said the left-hander’s reaction was priceless. Milone said Hyde was “referring to probably the big smile that I had on my face,” admitting a level of surprise. He quickly texted his wife, Tina, as well as his parents and several friends, knowing none will be able to witness his start in-person, with MLB teams playing in empty stadiums this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s obviously something I didn’t expect coming in, but an honor anyway,” Milone said. “It’s definitely going to be different, but either way, Opening Day is an honor and it’s always something to look forward to. So that’s what I am doing: Looking forward to it and ready to get going.”