Keegan: Milner carries big stick

In the first or second inning, when Kansas University cleanup hitter Gus Milner walks to the plate tonight against Wichita State at Hoglund Ballpark with loud bat in hand, give him an ovation he won’t forget.

His parents, Kevin and Nancy, will be in the stands. They always are. They won’t hear the ovation, but they’ll feel it. So don’t hold back. Let them feel your roar.

“They can feel the vibrations,” said Milner, a senior right fielder out of Olathe North High and Hutchinson Community College.

Milner’s parents are deaf. English is Gus’ second language, sign language his first.

“I’ve had a different lifestyle,” Milner said. “I’m not the most vocal guy or the most outgoing guy. When I was young, I didn’t really talk that much. It kind of helps me pay more attention to detail because I don’t use my hearing first. It’s more visual for me.”

Nothing is more important to a hitter than his visual system, so in that regard Milner’s quiet upbringing gives him an advantage as a hitter, right?

“Let’s hope so,” he said.

Milner’s responses to that line of questioning reveal him as one of those hitters who forever is dogged by the outs, only temporarily appeased by the hits.

It stands to reason his visual-first approach to life would help him recognize pitches better.

“Some weekends,” he said dryly.

There he goes again, beating himself up for the bad at-bats, the wild swings at breaking balls in the dirt. Another hitter in pursuit of the unattainable 1.000 batting average.

Milner leads KU with 31 RBIs and is batting a team-best .370, which is another way of saying he has failed 63 percent of time. Nobody in sports is asked to deal with failure so repeatedly as a hitter. Milner also leads the Jayhawks in home runs (six), doubles (nine) and triples (two), which is another way of saying that 91 of his at-bats resulted in something other than an extra-base hit. The bum.

“He’s handling adversity better within the game because he’s really a guy that beats himself up big-time and has a hard time with the failure within the game of baseball,” KU coach Ritch Price said. “But he’s grown up, he’s matured, he’s improved in every phase of the game.”

A 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-handed hitter, Milner displayed enough raw power as a junior that the Cleveland Indians drafted him in the 47th round. Milner told them he would return to school unless they gave him a $50,000 signing bonus. The Indians advised him to buy books. Milner said he’s taking 17 credits this semester so he can graduate on time.

He returned to KU intent on improving his performance in Big 12 play. A year ago, he hit .298 overall, .221 against Big 12 pitching.

And he returned to hear his favorite baseball sounds.

“Whenever you hit a home run,” he said. “That’s my favorite one. Once you hear it, you know that one’s going out. That’s the only sound I really pay attention to. That one and whenever there’s a strike-three call to close a game by Don Czyz. That’s always a good one.”

Thanks to Czyz and sound defense, KU is 6-1 in one-run games.

“Right now, he’s the man, that’s for sure,” Milner said of Czyz.

So’s the cleanup hitter, the guy who has failed 63 percent of time.