First Posted: 12/31/2008
DOBSON Josh McMillen has traveled many miles on his journey through life. McMillen, a native of Kansas and now a Dobson resident, will be honored for one of those journeys on Jan. 30 at Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kan., when he is inducted into the junior colleges Hall of Fame.
McMillen will fly to Cowley later this month where he will be honored for his National Junior College Association of America baseball career. He was a member of two national championship baseball teams in 1997 and 1998 and is one of three individuals being inducted for 2009.
Former Cowley softball coach Ed Hargrove and former junior college football coach W.G. Bunt Speer will also be inducted.
An outfielder, McMillen said his role as a hitter was simple.
When I was at the plate, my No. 1 goal was to get on base, he said. Whether it be with a hit or a double, getting hit by a pitch or taking a walk. I was able to work the count and wait for the pitch I wanted.
If I didnt get the pitch I wanted, Id work the count until I got on with a walk. Thats the reason I was kept on teams. I had outstanding hand-eye coordination.
After graduating high school in 1995, McMillen attended Kansas State University, where he was a walk on player with the baseball team. But McMillen saw his chances of playing time there were not good.
I had received one place I could play junior college baseball, McMillen said. But I decided to take my chances and walk on at Kansas State. My parents were not impressed with junior college, and they wanted me to go to college to get an education.
McMillen redshirted his first year at Kansas State, but when he sat down with the teams assistant coach for a workout the next fall, the writing was on the wall.
After a workout, I met with the teams assistant coach, McMillen said. He sat me down and told me Youre not gonna play very much here. If you go to a junior college, youll get the playing experience you need. He said they would contact me after my first year.
Kansas State did contact Cowley about McMillen going there to play. However, McMillen would not need a call back from Kansas State. He was about to jumpstart his career on the junior college level.
By 1997, McMillen was playing for a junior college championship.
That season, Cowley defeated Seminole State, Oklahoma to win the Junior College World Series championship.
In 1998, the Tigers beat San Jacinto College-North (Houston, Texas) to win a second straight title.
A freshman leftfielder on the team, McMillen remembers playing on a 1997 team loaded with talent. The squad included future Major League Baseball star Travis Hafner, who went on to play with the Cleveland Indians, and former Florida Marlins No. 1 draft pick, pitcher Aaron Aiken.
McMillens greatest memory of the 1997 championship game was when Hafner stepped to the plate during a close ballgame.
It was low-scoring affair, McMillen said. Travis Hafner belted a two-run home run that provided the margin of victory for us. Travis obviously got some big league exposure, playing designated hitter for the Indians.
As a hitter, McMillen batted behind Hafner in the Tigers lineup.
Hafner was the three-hole, and I batted cleanup behind him, so I had some big shoes to fill after his plate appearances, McMillen said. The thing about Travis is that he was a man among boys. Back then he was about 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. Most of us at Cowley were fairly average-sized kids.
During the 1997 season, McMillen reaped the benefits of batting behind Hafner when he went on a six-game tear. In the span of one week during that season, McMillen went 19 for 21 at the plate, knocking in several runs.
I went on little bit of hot streak batting behind Travis, McMillen said. It was a pretty crazy week.
McMillen was even more impressed with his teams ace on the pitching staff.
What was even more notable was that we had a pitcher by the name of Aaron Aiken who was drafted No. 1 by the Marlins in 97, he added.
McMillen said when his team played an intersquad game earlier that season, Aiken was nearly unhittable.
He could throw a 90 mile-an-hour fastball, McMillen said. His fastball would move six to eight inches across the plate. The first fastball he threw at me, I remember moving out of the way. That ball scooted over and moved right across the plate. Coach Dave Burroughs started jawing at me, asking me if I was gonna stay in the batters box. Id never seen another fastball move like his did.
In 1997, Cowley amassed a 53-11 overall record and won a trio of titles. Cowley was the Jayhawk East champions, Region VI champs and finally, the NJCAA National Champions.
But in 1998, Hafner and Aiken departed, leaving a younger, yet talented team behind.
Once again, Cowley won the national title.
The thing I remember the most about our 1998 season was that we didnt have a Travis Hafner or an Aaron Aiken, McMillen said. We went 34-0 in the regular season.
The Tigers 54-9 overall record culminated in the teams second Jayhawk East championship, Region VI championship and NJCAA National Championship during McMillens junior college career.
How it all began…
As a child growing up in Clearwater, Kansas, McMillen got his start in recreation league ball.
I originally started just like everybody else, playing teeball and moving up through the ranks, McMillen said. I ended up on a good high school ballclub. Most of our core guys played together every year.
Many of those players went on to compete in Continental Amateur Baseball Association (CABA) tournaments during their summers in Kansas.
As a high school senior, McMillens team went all the way to the CABA finals played in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Unfortunately, Clearwater didnt come out on top, but McMillen said he has fond memories of the tournament.
Our senior year in 95, we finished second to a team from Baltimore, Mary., he said. The neatest thing with that tournament was that you got to meet teams from each state. Each state had a representative. Ill never forget when we beat North Carolina, and each team would pass out something from their state. The North Carolina team passed out Tarheel pins. Im not gonna say that was a prediction or omen of things come, but…
Teams from Puerto Rico also competed in the tournament.
Some of the liveliest fans come from Puerto Rico, McMillen said. Their fans chant and absolutely get into the game. They were singing and dancing in the stands, just having a party. They just brought a little spice to the environment. It was pretty neat.
The journey moves east…
After two years of junior college baseball, McMillen decided it was time to get out and see the world. He attended a recruiting event for Kansas baseball players where he met the head coach of UNC-Charlottes baseball team. The coach was also a native of Kansas, according to McMillen Wellington, Kan.
He was recruiting, and he saw me there, McMillen said. I went on a recruiting trip to the school and realized Charlotte was the place I wanted to be. Little did I know, I was gonna meet a Southern Belle and start up a family.
McMillen furthered his education at UNC-Charlotte, where he met the former Sara White, daughter of Bob and Cindy White of Dobson. Josh eventually married Sara, a three-sport high school athlete from Surry Central.
Sara was a standout athlete from this area, Josh McMillen said. She played volleyball, basketball, and went to UNC-Wilmington on a track scholarship. She earned her masters at UNC-Charlotte.
McMillen himself had no ties to Charlotte. It was simply a one-way ticket out of Kansas and a way to see the world.
For me, it was a way to get away from Kansas and see what else was out there, he said. I think most high school kids dream about making the big leagues, but I was more aware of my chances of getting to the big leagues. By the time I graduated from UNC-Charlotte, I could see I had a future somewhere else.
A teacher and a father…
McMillens future lay in teaching.
I loved working with young people, teaching them how to hit and how to throw, he said. It gave me my inkling for my role in education.
Today, Josh McMillen lives in a full house in Dobson, with his wife Cindy, his six-year-old son, Nolan, his four-year-old daughter, Mia, and his two-year-old son Tripp. Josh is an eighth grade math teacher at Central Middle School, and Cindy works for Surry Community College where she was recently named Teacher of the Year. She is a math instructor.
After all the traveling McMillen has done, one might wonder if Josh McMillen and his family will stick around Surry County for a while. You bet they will.
Yes, McMillen said. I love it here. My wife and I were married in Charlotte and lived there for about a year. Once we knew we were going to have a family… I grew up in a small town in Kansas. It was a small hometown, a good community, and it had all the amenities. It had places to eat and shop nearby. We also wanted to raise our young in a small town atmosphere. Thats the kind of place we wanted to raise our children in.
All along the way, McMillens parents were supportive, attending both of Joshs junior college title games, but the prospect of a baseball career didnt really hit McMillen until he enrolled at Cowley.
Ill never forget when I went down for my initial visit to Cowley, the week before classes started, McMillen said. I went through the enrollment process, got enrolled. On the way home, I looked over at Dad, and said, What am I doing?
My life sort of changed, he added. Baseball became more a part of my life. It was a strange and funny feeling what I was getting myself into, but obviously, it turned out pretty good. For me it was a journey.
To this day, McMillen cant believe hes so far from where he grew up.
I cant believe Im 1500 miles from home, McMillen concluded. I got to see my parents on our webcam for the holidays. They got to see the kids. Everything is completely different than it was when I grew up.
Soon after his arrival in Dobson, McMillen joined Dobsons First Baptist Church.
Im making new friends, he said. I love every bit of it.
Josh McMillens parents, Fred and Jeanne McMillen, reside in Wichita, Kansas.
Contact Justin Nuzzo at [email protected] or 719-1922.