BY JIMMY GILLIGAN | The Statesman It’s taken three years and three different schools, but sophomore center fielder for the UMD baseball team Brett Milazzo has found his fit.
After transferring from two other schools due to coaching changes, Milazzo has found a steady and more successful program at UMD that his other schools didn’t offer.
Now finally playing in the first college baseball games of his career, he’s found his own success.
Through the first quarter of the season, the Arlington Heights, Illinois native has successfully filled a hole left by outgoing senior captain Johnny Meyer, who was starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.
In his role Milazzo has a .373 batting average in 12 games.
“We had a lot of power coming back so we were more looking for the speed element,” head coach Bob Rients said. “He really fit just about as perfect as you could.”
While things are going smoothly now, the past two baseball seasons have been anything but that for Milazzo.
In 2013, Milazzo committed to Purdue University as a senior in high school.
He didn’t play in a single game for Purdue. When the coaching staff that recruited him was replaced, Milazzo didn’t fit in with the new coaching staff’s power-hitting philosophies.
After one year at Purdue, Milazzo transferred to the University of North Carolina at Asheville to join their NCAA Division I program as a redshirt freshman in 2014.
Again, the coaches who brought Milazzo in left the program.
“When we got new coaches, it was kind of tough because they’re given players that they didn’t recruit, and if you don’t fit their mold it’s hard to build a relationship,” Milazzo said.
The Bulldog baseball program wasn’t on Milazzo’s radar when he went back home this past summer to play for the Crystal Lake Cardinals of the Metropolitan Collegiate Summer Baseball League of Illinois.
That was until he met UMD’s Alex Ferguson, one of his Cardinal teammates.
“I heard him talking to our coach about how he doesn’t know his plan for next year and that he’s looking for a smaller school,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson then approached Milazzo about playing for the Bulldogs and that there was a spot in center field and at the top of the batting order that he could probably fill.
Soon after, Milazzo got in touch with Rients. He officially became a Bulldog when he committed only a few weeks before the fall semester began.
“It couldn’t have worked out better that I played alongside Alex,” Milazzo said. “Without being on that team and talking to him I wouldn’t be in this spot. He talked to me about the school and gave me the good insight. That’s something I never really had at the other schools.”
One factor that drew Milazzo to Duluth was the program’s recent success. UMD had a breakout season in 2015, where the Bulldogs went 35-16 and advanced to the second round of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament.
”Athletes want to be successful,” Rients said. “They want to be in an environment that is positive and competitive, so it’s nice to know that’s the route that the program is going in.”
In his first two college baseball seasons, his teams went a combined 34-71.
“It’s a winning culture here and it’s a different attitude on and off the field,” Milazzo said, compared to his former teams. “It’s good to come onto a program that’s only getting better and only seeing more talent come in each year.”
Milazzo said he feels comfortable in his role as a contact hitter, something he couldn’t do elsewhere.
While it may have taken longer than Milazzo ever expected, he has been able to find a team he works well with and a coaching staff he can trust.
“Coming here has been the best thing that’s happened to me in my three years of college,” Milazzo said. “I fully trust our coaching stuff and they’re extremely up front with me with where I stand and how I can improve. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this program.”
Among his teammates, the feeling is mutual.
“It honestly just worked out perfectly and he’s obviously filled the role really well,” Ferguson said. “I’m really glad he came here, to say the least.”