Midwest Regional Preview
Nathan Mikolas is a lot like most of the other high school seniors scattered across the nation this time of year, looking forward to a springtime filled with prom dates, graduation parties and lots and lots of baseball.
And it is baseball that sets Mikolas apart from his classmates at Kenosha (Wis.) Bradford High School and also what led him to leave Kenosha and his Bradford teammates last spring to pursue his dream at the nation’s highest level.
This spring, he’ll be back sleeping in his own bed and leading a life more typical of your average high school senior baseball player.
Mikolas, an outfielder/first baseman ranked Perfect Game’s 125th overall national prospect and Wisconsin’s No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2012, attended Bradford through the first three quarters of the 2010-11 school year while playing ball in the PG Wisconsin Spring Wood Bat League.
He then left eastern Wisconsin for northeast Georgia, where he joined the nationally elite East Cobb Baseball organization and was invited to play for the powerhouse East Cobb Braves 17u squad. He finished up his junior year course-work at Bradford through online classes while living and playing baseball in Georgia.
Mikolas, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-handed hitter who has signed with the University of Louisville, simply felt that in order to become one of the game’s best he needed to be surrounded by the best.
“I knew East Cobb was one of the top programs in the nation, and it wasn’t that I wanted to leave home and think that I was better than anyone else – by no means, it was nothing like that – I just wanted to get myself out there and get the exposure that I wanted, and also play against the best competition,” Mikolas told Perfect Game in a recent telephone conversation.
“By playing against the best competition, that only brings the best out of me … and that’s what allows you to become better, when you challenge yourself.”
After arriving in Georgia, Mikolas earned a spot in the Braves 17u’s starting lineup, alongside 2011 Perfect Game All-Americans Skye Bolt (North Carolina), Matthew Crownover (Clemson) and Tucker Simpson (Florida). He made his 2011 PG debut at the 17u/18u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational in Marietta, Ga., the second week of June.
“I was excited when I got asked to play with the Braves, and it’s a good experience and a lot of exposure and it’s a chance to get better,” Mikolas told Perfect Game while in Marietta. “It’s a great experience meeting new people and a chance to get a lot, lot better.”
Nearly nine months after that interview, Mikolas hadn’t changed his tune one bit.
“I have no regrets. It was an awesome experience living down there,” he said this week. “The one thing I must say is, not only has it helped me become a better baseball player but it’s also taught me how to live on my own, and I’ve become more independent and more mature and it’s taught me more than just baseball.”
Mikolas continued to play the game at its highest level throughout the summer, and helped the Braves 17u to national championships at the PG WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship and the 18u BCS Finals within a week of one another in the middle of July (the Braves 17u also won the aforementioned PG-EC Invitational).
He had previously performed at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June, and was also a participant in the East Coast Professional Showcase and at the Area Code Games. He capped off the summer and fall by playing with the Andy Stack-coached Reds Midwest Scout Team at both the PG WWBA Kernels Foundation Championship in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.
The Reds won the Kernels Foundation title behind Mikolas, who earned the Most Valuable Player Award after hitting .467 (7-for-15) with a double, two triples, a home run, six RBI and eight runs scored in six games.
The Reds Midwest Scout Team kept things rolling by advancing to the final four of the WWBA World Championship. Mikolas was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Reds teammates Zach Stoner (Southern Illinois), Kevin Elder (Arizona), Andy Honiotes (uncommitted), Brent Stong (Bradley) and AJ Puk (Florida).
“That was awesome,” Mikolas said. “Coach Stack put together an awesome team, a good group of guys who are really dedicated to baseball and who really wanted to be there and really wanted to win at Jupiter. We came so close, but I’m satisfied with how we did down there and everybody played their hearts out. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was a good way to end up the year.”
All told, Mikolas has competed at nearly 30 Perfect Game events, including 16 WWBA and two BCS Finals tournaments, and numerous Wisconsin Fall and Spring Wood Bat League seasons.
“I’ve been playing in the Perfect Game organization since (2007) in the (Wisconsin) Fall League, and Perfect Game has done a ton for me over the years,” Mikolas said. “It’s allowed me to play against high level competition and even some of my best friends that I’ve made over the years are through Perfect Game, and those friends will be life-long.”
A lot of those friendships were made as a member of the East Cobb Baseball organization. The whole process served as a learning experience for Mikolas, and he eagerly and earnestly soaked in every lesson that came his way.
“It’s just the little things,” he said. “When you start playing in different parts of the country you start to realize that. You learn that you need to start working harder and you see what you need to improve on. Playing with all those All-Americans, it shows you what other people do and it makes you want to become just like them.”
Mikolas was speaking early this week just before an 8 p.m. indoor practice session in the Bradford High School gym. There was still snow on the ground in Kenosha and Mikolas knew he wasn’t in Georgia anymore. But he is undeterred and looking forward to his final high school season.
He played his freshman and sophomore years at Bradford, after all, and still feels like a tried-and-true Red Devil.
“It’s not that I felt bad (about leaving), but I wanted to be loyal; I wanted to be loyal to my high school team for my senior year,” he said. “I know I’ve been to East Cobb the last two summers, so just being home for the last time to play baseball, it means a lot. To be with my family and my friends who I’ve grown up with, and just being able to graduate from Bradford means a lot to my family and me.”
Bradford and head coach Matt LaBuda finished 21-6 in 2011 after losing to Neenah in a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division-1 state tournament quarterfinal. The Red Devils made that strong showing despite losing Mikolas and three other top players for a variety of reasons.
“There’s still 11 seniors on this team and I believe in them,” LaBuda told the Kenosha News before the quarterfinal contest against Neenah. “This group has been playing together since they were 12 or 13 years old. Now that they’re seniors they’ve developed into leaders.”
LaBuda could have turned-back Mikolas’ interest in rejoining the team after his one-year hiatus. Instead, he opened his arms.
“He took me in, and I’m very thankful that there are no hurt feelings about me leaving,” Mikolas said. “He knew that it wasn’t because of him or his program and it was just something that I had to do for myself to hopefully live up to the dreams that I have.”
You won’t find Bradford listed in the PG Midwest Region High School Rankings being released today, but that does nothing to tamp down the Red Devils’ expectations.
“We don’t have too many seniors and we’re a younger team, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compete,” Mikolas said. “I wasn’t there, but we did really good at state last year and we won state in 2008. This should be a good year; we have a good group of guys and we all work hard, and we want to win a state championship.”
And he also wants his Bradford teammates to understand something else he learned during the time he spent in the South: Just because you live in a cooler climate doesn’t mean you can’t compete at a high national level.
“Maybe you are behind the eight-ball a little bit, but that doesn’t mean that people up North can’t play,” Mikolas said. “We don’t play (outside) the year around, but we can learn through our work ethic in the cages and I think people from the Midwest … work hard on their craft.”
Through hard work and a strong Midwestern work ethic, Mikolas can now listen to his name being bandied about when talk turns to June’s 2012 MLB Draft. Perfect Game ranks him as the 340th overall prospect in this year’s field.
“I’m honored to have my name out there for the draft and it’s every kid’s dream to play in the Major Leagues, but nobody can control what happens,” Mikolas said. “All I can do is work hard and try to develop my skills to the best of my ability.”
And this spring, he’ll be doing that wearing a Bradford Red Devils’ uniform.