It was smiles all around in the Kansas dugout immediately after the win, but one of the Jayhawks who enjoyed Wednesday’s results the most was junior centerfielder Gus Milner.
The transfer from Hutchinson Community College is a Kansas native, hailing from Olathe where he played at Olathe North High School. Before ultimately picking the Jayhawks, Milner gave WSU a strong look. That brief piece of history made Wednesday’s win even sweeter as Milner was able to play a big role in helping his favorite Kansas program beat the perennial power he passed up on last year.
So, just how big a role did Milner play on Wednesday at Hoglund Ballpark?
The former Olathe North Eagle drove in almost half of his team’s 13 runs (6 RBI), hit two 3-run homers, and was only retired once all night in five at-bats. Head coach Ritch Price called the performance “special” and assistant coach Ryan Graves concurred.
“He was great,” Graves said of Milner. “Even the one out that he made was a hard line drive to third base. He was pretty locked in and feeling good.”
That good feeling has been contagious as the Kansas coaching staff is now feeling pretty good about landing Milner’s services this season.
“We were lucky to grab him last year in our recruiting class,” admitted Graves. “He's been everything we were hoping for. He's put up power numbers for us. He's done a great job in centerfield. He's a got a good arm from the outfield and he kind of shuts down people going from first to third on base hits and he covers the gaps really well. We've been extremely pleased with him.”
And so have the Kansas fans at Hoglund Ballpark. Milner has immediately won over the Jayhawk faithful and has stood out ever since opening day. Big Gus is definitely an eye-opener in centerfield – not only because of his production, but also because of his size.
“He's obviously the biggest centerfielder we've ever had and he's really starting to put up some power numbers now. He's turned into our four-hole hitter and he's doing a great job for us.”
Graves says Milner’s size is unusual for his position.
“He's pretty much a rarity. Usually when you think centerfielders, you're thinking (about) little guys that can really run and maybe they’re going to be able to bunt and execute the game by hitting and running, but not putting big power numbers up. He's about 6-6. I think he's weighing in around 230. He really runs really well for his size and is extremely athletic for how big he is. He looks more like a linebacker than a centerfielder.
Good thing Mark Mangino is stacked at that position on his KU football depth chart. In all seriousness though, if KU’s big centerfielder keeps coming up big like he did on Wednesday, Mangino stealing him away will be the least of Ritch Price’s worries. It’ll be the major league baseball scouts that will want to pluck Milner from the Kansas roster. The third year head coach wondered out loud on Wednesday night if Milner had just earned himself a hefty paycheck by posting such a performance with so many pro scouts in attendance.
There’s little doubt that Milner someday will get a chance to play for pay, but such opportunities are still a ways away. Right now all Big Gus is thinking about is helping Kansas beat another rival, the Oklahoma Sooners. Milner and the Jayhawks are in Norman this weekend for a three game set with OU. After that stretch in Norman, it’ll be off to Wichita for round two of the sunflower state battle between KU and WSU and you can bet Milner and the Jayhawks will be ready to pick up where they left off on Wednesday.