Potomac Nationals first baseman Brett McMillan sat by himself in a hotel room at the Frederick Comfort Inn and watched Barry Bonds, after breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record, raise his arms to the sky in honor of his late father.
It was an emotional moment for both players, though they were separated by 3,000 miles. As players, they are even further apart. But both have lost their baseball fathers and the chance to share their triumphs with them.
Barry’s father was dead when he reached the pinnacle of his career.
Brett’s triumph was simply being promoted by the Nationals from Hagerstown to Potomac earlier this year, just a few weeks after his father, Nationals scout Doug McMillan, died of a heart attack at age 60.
“When Barry did that, I had no idea what he was feeling because he did something no one else had done,” Brett said. “But I know he felt a connection with his dad and baseball, like I did. After each game I played, whether it was high school, college or pro ball, he would be the first person I would talk to after a game. He was my best friend.
Like Barry, Brett McMillan ran around outfields and clubhouses in Fresno and Modesto and the other stops in the California League during summers when he was a young boy. Brett tagged along with his father, who, after his baseball career ended in 1972 and a stint as a golf pro, became a scout for the San Francisco Giants.
“My summer vacations were going to California League games, going to places like Modesto and Stockton,” Brett said. “It is not like I was going to Disneyland, but I was going with him and it was fun being in minor league clubhouses and hanging out with players. A lot of my best times were with my dad going on the road to games with him.”
So the minor league life is familiar to Brett, from Shingle Springs, Calif., drafted by the Nationals in the 14th round last year out of UCLA. He wasn’t scouted by his father, who came to work for the Nationals when they were the Expos in Montreal six years ago. Doug signed such top minor league prospects as outfielder Kory Casto, a two-time Nationals minor league player of the year, and infielder Stephen Englund, last year’s second-round selection. He scouted the sixth player the Nationals picked in this year’s draft, shortstop Steven Souza.
“My dad always had good things to say about people,” Brett said. “There are some scouts that are always looking for something to not like about a player. He was always looking for something to like. He wanted to like his players, his people. I think that was why he had a lot of friends. The scouting community is real close, and when he passed away we had a get-together at our house. It was overwhelming to see how many scouts showed up and how many people respected him.”
Dana Brown, the Nationals director of scouting, is missing Doug right now.
“I am out in California for the Area Code games, which are very important games for young players, and he was always here,” Brown said. “We miss him telling all the stories at the dinner table. He was a veteran scout and was well respected and well liked, a good guy to talk to.”
Brett, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound left-handed hitter, started last year at short-season Vermont and batted .227 with 20 RBI in 62 games. He began this season moving up to Class A Hagerstown, where he hit .266 average with five home runs and 21 RBI in 169 at-bats. He was promoted to Potomac in the high Class A Carolina League, where Brett is hitting .236 with three homers and 26 RBI in 165 at-bats.
“I like playing for this organization,” Brett said. “They have given me the opportunity to move up in the system. I made some adjustments. I have been swinging the bat good the last week or so. I want to finish the season strong and prove that I can play here and move up.”
Brown said they are encouraged by the progress Brett has made.
“He started to take off this year,” Brown said. “He got off to a great start in Hagerstown. He had a slow start in Potomac, but it looks like he is picking it up, which is exciting. It is special to have Brett in the organization, living out his dad’s legacy.”
Brett said the loss of his father really set in when he wasn’t playing well in Potomac.
“I didn’t have him to turn to when I was struggling on the field,” he said. “The field wasn’t really an escape for me then from the situation. I felt like there was a weight on my shoulders. But I pushed through that and had some people I could talk to, family and friends. I think once I started talking about him and let people know what I was thinking and heard my own thoughts, I got adjusted to it and was able to deal with it better.”
Still, after every game, Brett thinks about his dad and their phone calls.
“When I got moved up to Potomac, that was emotional for me,” Brett said. “I thought about how much I would have loved to call my dad and tell him I got promoted. But I know wherever he is, he is happy with that.”