Alan Mills became the third manager of an Orioles minor league affiliate to earn an award for his work in 2019. And he’s still uncertain about his future, wondering if he’s going to stay with them, the obvious preference, or be searching for a job.
Mills was chosen as the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League’s Manager of the Year after leading the rookie-level Orioles to the top record at 38-15. The season was cut short due to the threat posed by Hurricane Dorian and the playoffs were eliminated.
An impressive showing by a first-year manager who most recently was the Orioles bullpen coach under former manager Buck Showalter and also served as a pitching coach in the minors.
Mills joins Double-A Bowie’s Buck Britton, named Manager of the Year in the Eastern League, and Single-A Delmarva’s Kyle Moore, honored by the South Atlantic League.
“I don’t know. I can’t even begin to pretend that I know what it means and the significance of it. I just know I had a lot of fun this summer,” said Mills, who pitched for parts of nine seasons with the Orioles.
“We had a great group of guys, the drafted guys, the guys that came back from previous drafts. And the staff was tremendous. I mean, I can’t take credit for what the team did. I had so much help. I can’t even begin to tell you.
“I had Scotty McGregor there, Milt May, Dave Schmidt. All the new coaches were great. Collin Woody, Chris Madera, Adam Bleday. The training staff was good. I mean, everybody across the board, I couldn’t have asked for a better staff, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of players to manage. It was just a really good experience.”
Mills signed a one-year deal to stay in the organization before the Orioles hired Mike Elias as executive vice president/general manager. Brian Graham, the former director of player development who served as acting GM prior to his dismissal on Nov. 30, took care of Mills by drawing up a new contract that runs through Oct. 31.
“Then we’ll see what happens,” Mills said. “The first time I got hired, I was working for the Tigers (in 2008) and the guy told me, ‘You’re hired to be fired.’ And that’s what you take home when you’re a coach is it comes with the territory.
“Hopefully I can come back. I don’t particularly want to go anywhere else. I like coaching for the O’s. That’s kind of like home for me. But whenever there’s a change at the top it usually means you see a turnover. Hopefully I can come back, but we’ll see.”
Mills spent two seasons as Orioles bullpen coach after working a combined five years as pitching coach with short-season Single-A Aberdeen, Delmarva and Bowie. The idea of managing hadn’t crossed his mind until the Orioles planted it.
“I just assumed I would be assigned a pitching duty somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t know where. But they called me and told me they wanted me to manage the Gulf Coast team and that’s kind of how it developed. It kind of hit me by surprise. That was the last thing I was really expecting at the time, but it turned out to be a really, really unique and good experience for me. I learned a lot this year.”
The daily routine underwent a drastic makeover, with Mills shifting his attention away from the relievers. There was a detachment to the pitching staff that he had to accept.
“I might have seen two bullpens all season. And that’s all I did as a pitching coach. You’re in the bullpen, you’re working with pitchers,” he said.
“As a manager it’s like, OK, it’s a fundamental batting practice with the hitters. You’re in the cage with the hitters. I spent more time in the batting cages this year than I probably ever spent in my life. That was different for me. And just seeing what they do on a daily basis.
“Once you start your work in spring training, pitchers go one way and the hitters go another way. I was with the hitters most of the time. It was just different. It was a complete learning experience for me and I loved it. I loved every minute of it, actually.”
Enough to continue doing it?
Mills isn’t looking that far down the road.
“I always approach it where, when I first got hired to coach at Aberdeen, that’s what I focused on and nothing else,” Mills said. “People would ask me if I think about progressing to be a major league coach one day. I don’t coach like that. Whatever they have me doing, that’s where I try to keep my focus and I don’t get beyond that. I think that’s too much for me to focus on. I try to stay in that lane.”
Mills remains in touch with the people from his past at every level, maintaining friendships and retaining nuggets of information and wisdom that came to him.
“All the guys I worked with. Even players I coached when I was the pitching coach in Aberdeen. They’ve all helped me in some way or fashion, players and staff,” Mills said.
“I learned a lot from the guys I played for. Johnny Oates, Davey Johnson, pitching coaches I’ve been around, Ray Miller. A lot of different guys. Cal Ripken Sr., and the players you played with. You take a bit of everything from everyone you come in contact with.”
Mills is back home in Lakeland, Fla., relieved that the Category 5 storm shifted direction and also disappointed that the GCL season was impacted. Britton and Moore guided their teams to the playoffs. Mills did the same, but with no games to show for it.
And no championship ring or any sort of bling, which seems unfortunate for a team with the best record.