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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

After six years and two surgeries, Garrett Milchin is still living the dream

Meet the oldest member of Florida baseball’s extremely young roster

<p>UF infielder/pitcher Garrett Milchin runs towards first base after getting a hit during Florida&#x27;s 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.</p>

UF infielder/pitcher Garrett Milchin runs towards first base after getting a hit during Florida's 3-2 loss against Tennessee on April 8, 2017, at McKethan Stadium.

A lot has happened at UF since the Fall of 2016. 

Florida football has had three head coaches, construction on Florida Ballpark started and finished, and UF teams have won seven combined national championships.

Only one member of Florida’s baseball team, Garrett Milchin, has seen it all, including the program’s lone national title his freshman year.

“It’s not like holy cow this is easy,” Milchin said. “But you kinda become spoiled at first.”

Milchin, 24, who is in his sixth year as a Gator and can opt for a seventh due to COVID-19 eligibility rules, is now a graduate student at UF after earning a bachelor’s in economics in 2019.

His career started on the highest of highs, but it has not been easy since. 

Milchin has had Tommy John surgery twice since he arrived on campus to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. The recovery period is usually a year at minimum and any pitcher that undergoes it faces a crossroads in their career when they do.

“There’s a lot of hard days in the training room,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “It’s hard enough coming back from one Tommy John and now he’s coming back from two.”

What Milchin has done in his career is highly uncommon. Out of more than 500 MLB players to receive the surgery since 1974, only 49 of them have had it more than once. The recovery is one of the most difficult in sports — certainly more difficult than an ACL recovery — and presents an enormous challenge to a pitcher’s career.

Milchin made it back for 2021 after three years away from the mound due to the surgeries and the COVID-19 pandemic cutting the 2020 season short. He made six starts last year, all in midweek games, and posted a 4.98 ERA in 21.2 innings while striking out 20 and walking three.

Now, he returns as the oldest player on the roster to try and lead the Gators back to the promised land. Florida has an extremely young roster in 2022, and Milchin is the only player listed as older than a junior. 

Milchin said his experience is a huge help in guiding the younger players, especially at the beginning of a season.

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“I just kinda know what to expect at this point from this time of year, getting started with practice and opening day, you’ve been through it before,” Milchin said.

He said while he can guide underclassmen, he does not want to get in the way too much.

“It’s not about telling everybody what to do,” Milchin said. “It’s kind of just helping them learn through experience on their own and if they have questions make them feel like they can come to you.”

O’Sullivan said that Milchin leads by example and is a key member of the team’s leadership group. His head coach had extremely high praise for his character, calling him a favorite on the team.

“He exemplifies everything that we want in this program,” O’Sullivan said. “I hope that he has a great year for us — I really do.”

Milchin is part of a group of holdovers from 2021 looking to respond to a disappointing season. Florida came into the season as the consensus top team in the country, but crashed and burned in the Gainesville Regional. He said those high expectations created some complacency heading into the season.

“I think somebody called us ‘the best college baseball team ever assembled,’” Milchin said. “Which obviously you hear that and you wanna let your guard down which you really can’t do in [the SEC].”

After a disastrous 19-1 loss to South Alabama ended their season, the Gators look ahead to 2022 with newfound motivation. 

“With how things ended last year I think it left everyone with a sour taste in their mouth,” Milchin said. “Everybody was humbled pretty significantly from last year and going into this year I think we’ve got more of a chip on our shoulder.”

Nobody in the locker room knows the standard of the program as well as Milchin. While a lot has changed since the Fall of 2016, “Omaha or bust” remains the mantra in the locker room.

“I think that’s the way you gotta look at it every year.” Milchin said, “You go into it wanting to win it, so that’s gotta be your ultimate goal.”

As for Milchin, he is focused on staying healthy and being available to his team to help them reach the mountain top. He is also thankful for where he is at and having fun is at the top of his priority list.

“Not many people are able to still be playing college baseball at 24 years old,” Milchin said. “Still living the dream.”

Florida will need the experience of Milchin and other veterans on this young team if they want to reach their dream and get back to the top. The Gators’ road to redemption begins Feb. 18 when they kick off their season against the Liberty Flames.

Contact Ethan Budowsky at ebudowsky@alligator.org. Find him on Twitter @EthanBudowsky.

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