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From a young age, Barone lived baseball

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

Up two games to none in the American Association Championship Series, the Milwaukee Milkmen were in a good spot. Nathaniel “Ned” Barone, though, wanted to offer his son, Anthony, some paternal advice anyway, so as Anthony, the Milkmen’s manager, was preparing for the trip to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to continue their quest for a league title, he received a text from dear, old dad.

“Anthony, look it,” the message read. “Now is not the time to let up. Keep your foot on the gas.”

Anthony’s response?

“I know, Dad, I know.”

Because, in many ways, when it comes to baseball, Anthony has always “known.”

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When Anthony was a preschooler, he lived with his family in Toledo, Ohio, while his father, who is now the Chautauqua County public defender, attended law school.

Typically an early riser, Ned would often find his son already downstairs first thing in the morning with the newspaper opened to the sports section, while paying particular attention to how the Alan Trammell-led Detroit Tigers did the night before.

Anthony was 4.

“Most kids would be watching cartoons, but he had ESPN turned on (the television),” Ned said, “and … he’d be looking at every box score of every game. Most importantly, it was the Tigers and he knew them inside and out. I said to my ex-wife, ‘What the heck is he doing? That’s not normal.’ She said, ‘You can thank yourself for that, because that’s all you do is talk baseball.’

“At that point you knew he loved this game.”

On Thursday night, Anthony, now 41, embraced another milestone when the Milkmen won the American Association title, with a 4-1 victory over Sioux Falls, capping an incredible worst-to-first season.

“They went from a last-place team (in 2019 to a championship) in only their second year of existence with a new manager,” Ned said proudly. “It’s almost unheard of. Plus, it was in a COVID year.”

In the end, however, it turned out to be Anthony’s year, continuing a journey that has met with success at every stop. After spending one season as the Milkmen’s assistant coach in charge of infield defense and hitting, he was named the manager last fall, continuing a climb that began at Jamestown Community College, took him to Cal State-Bakersfield in the Western Athletic Conference and then back home to Jamestown where he was manager for the Jammers in a pair of collegiate wood-bat leagues for four summers. In 2017, Jamestown lost in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship series, but followed that up by claiming the league title in 2018.

“Anthony is such a good kid,” Ned said. “People who knew him growing up said he was like a different person (in competitive situations). When he walked out of the dugout or onto the basketball court, he became mentally a different person. That’s what set him apart as a player, the mental toughness. He was never the biggest or the strongest, but his mental toughness and his willingness to continue to fight no matter what (was the difference).”

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When the Barone family moved back to Jamestown after Ned graduated from law school in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t unusual for father and son to drive around town looking for an empty diamond.

“We’d ride around with a bucket of balls, a couple bats and gloves, and I’d literally hit him hundreds of ground balls and throw hundreds of soft tosses and hit pop-ups,” Ned said. “He was 6 or 7 years old. I know sometimes he didn’t want to be there, but, for me, what better place than a dad to be with your kids on a summer night at the ballpark tossing the ball around.”

Ned believes his son’s formative years — Anthony first played organized baseball in the Jamestown City Recreation League before moving on to the Bambino League and Coach Dale Melquist — has served him well decades later.

“He understands you can affect so many young lives,” Ned said. “At (the American Association) level, obviously, it’s different. It’s professional and there are guys who are there to get their crack back at the majors. His starting rotation (this summer) were former Major League pitchers. … That’s a responsibility (because) it’s their future.”

Anthony’s future in the game he loves appears bright. Consider this: In his final two seasons in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, he was selected the Manager of the Year. After one season as an assistant coach with the Milkmen, Anthony led Milwaukee to the American Association’s best record in the regular season before Thursday night’s title..

That’s a “batting average” that will put you in someone’s starting lineup every time.

The Milkmen were the beneficiaries this summer.

“He’s told me several times that there’s so many different things you have to navigate in order to be successful at the professional level that it can be overwhelming,” Ned said.

But just like he did with the boxscores as a 4-year-old nearly 40 years ago, Anthony has absorbed as much about America’s pastime as he possibly can, and that has allowed him to reap the benefits, with some championship hardware thrown in for good measure.

“It’s almost hard to believe,” Ned said.

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