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Dream come true

Barone leads Milkmen to title

Milwaukee Milkmen manager Anthony Barone receives the Miles Wolff Trophy after the Milkmen beat the Sioux Falls Canaries, 4-1, in Game 5 of the American Association championship series on Thursday at Sioux Falls Stadium. Photos by Katelyn Tans | Milwaukee Milkmen

Anthony Barone was a little late returning a phone call during an eight-hour bus ride from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Milwaukee on Friday afternoon.

It was easy to forgive the 41-year-old manager of the Milwaukee Milkmen.

He was up into the wee hours of the morning celebrating an American Association title.

Barone’s Milkmen beat the Sioux Falls Canaries, 4-1, in the best-of-seven championship series to capture the Miles Wolff Trophy in just their second year of existence.

“In 2018, when we won in Jamestown, it was a dream come true,” Barone said of a Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship with the Jammers. “To do it again this year, I feel really confident in my ability. I’m so happy we could turn this thing around. The future of our organization bodes well and it puts us on the map now.”

Mike Zimmerman, ROC Ventures owner and executive officer, hoists the Miles Wolff Trophy on Thursday night.

The victory capped an unprecedented season for the league and its teams.

The six organizations that participated didn’t even know there would be a truncated season until about two weeks before it started in early July. Milwaukee and the Chicago Dogs had the third game of their season postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test, but following an off day, both teams resumed their schedules.

“This is great for the league. It’s been a remarkable job by the American Association and all of the teams. We got through the season with one minor hiccup,” Barone said. “We had fans in the stands and a great atmosphere that sort of set the standard that this can be done, and be done with a high level of success.”

The Milkmen stayed near the top of the standings all year long, clinching the regular-season’s best record and the No. 1 seed for the championship series in the final week of the calendar.

“I always saw myself continuing to move up in the profession and being successful wherever I’m at,” Barone said. “This has been everything I could have hoped for and dreamed. I’m grateful for the opportunity ROC Ventures has given me.

“I just try to go in every day and do it to the best of my ability,” Barone added. “… I don’t do anything different than trying to outwork everybody.”

Barone was also thankful to be able to win the championship with his friend and colleague, pitching coach Hayden Carter.

“He’s been with me side by side for the championship in Jamestown and in Milwaukee,” Barone said. “I believe he’s my right-hand man, my sidekick. … He is a young guy who is very organized and detailed. Without Hayden, a lot of this wouldn’t be possible.”

This week’s championship series featured the stellar pitching and defense of the Milkmen against arguably the league’s top offensive team in the Canaries.

Milwaukee made a statement during the first inning of the series with six runs and never looked back en route to an 11-6 Game 1 victory, despite ace David Holmberg throwing just four innings before exiting with a minor injury.

“That sort of set the stage for the series in the first inning of the first game,” Barone said. “Going into it we were known for our pitching and defense … but we could score runs with them, too. … That got our confidence level up offensively.”

Game 2 was a more favorable style for the Milkmen as Henderson Alvarez threw seven innings of two-hit ball in a 2-0 victory.

“When he pitches, he pitches to the point where he makes teams uncomfortable and expects to put up a zero every inning,” Barone said. “He’s so competitive and wants to win so badly. Even without his best stuff, you know what you are going to get.”

Milwaukee put Sioux Falls on the brink of elimination in Game 3, trailing 3-1 early before taking a 5-3 lead. The Canaries then tied the game at 5-5, but the Milkmen scored the final five runs to take a 3-0 series lead.

“That was the first game on the road,” Barone said. “We held serve at home and then took the first one in Sioux Falls. … We expected it wouldn’t be easy, but a 3-0 advantage is definitely in your favor.”

Sioux Falls didn’t go quietly in Game 4, leading throughout before Milwaukee made it close with a three-run ninth inning.

“They came out hitting and knew they were one game from elimination,” Barone said of the Canaries. “They gave us their best shot.”

But Holmberg took the ball again in Game 5 and didn’t disappoint Barone or the Milkmen, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning as Milwaukee clinched the title with a 4-1 victory.

“He wanted the ball after we lost Game 4,” Barone said of Holmberg. “He told me, ‘I’m ready. Let’s finish it.’ I saw it in his eyes that he was ready to close it down.”

Barone, a 1997 Jamestown High School and 1999 Jamestown Community College graduate, is used to managerial success in his young career. He led Jamestown CC to five NJCAA Region 3 tournaments during his time leading the Jayhawks, then reached a Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship series in 2017 before winning the league title in 2018 as manager of the Jamestown Jammers.

“He’s pretty laid back with the way he coaches and lets the players play their game,” said Canisius College product Christ Conley, who played two season for Barone with the Jammers and the last two with the Milkmen. “He’s not there to micromanage and lets guys do their thing.”

Now Barone’s found team success at the professional level with the Milkmen and in the process is hoping to help his players achieve their ultimate goal of playing in the big leagues.

“After the game we had a scout at the hotel sign one of our players. That was really neat to win a championship and then two or three hours later a scout talks to me and wants to sign one of our guys,” Barone said. “It was a really surreal experience. … Everything came full circle (Thursday) night.”

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