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Happy Pirate

Pittsburgh reconnected Local baseball star Carmen Mlodzinski to his Pennsylvania roots by drafting him in the first round.

Story by Dean Rowland

When you’re a 21-year-old pitcher who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds, you might have a future in the game of baseball. Hilton Head Islander Carmen Mlodzinski thinks so. The Pittsburgh Pirates think so, too. They drafted him in the first round as its 31st pick in this year’s major league draft in June. He signed for a reported $2.05 million.

“Once I got the call, we were all very excited,” he said. “I couldn’t be any happier where I landed. I took a deep breath and was very excited. My family was excited. It’s a milestone I’ve been working for my whole career.”

First Class • Carmen Mlodzinski (pronounced ma-GIN-ski) is shown with his parents, Holly and Thomas, when he played for Hilton Head Island High School. He was drafted in the first round by the Pirates.

When he visited the team’s organization after the draft to sign his contract, they told him they wanted him to be a starter on the mound as soon as possible.

“I fell in love with the city” when he went to Pennsylvania three months ago.

For Mlodzinski, it was a homecoming of sorts. He was born in Pennsylvania, moved to Hilton Head as a youngster, but still holds the Philadelphia Phillies near and dear to his baseball heart.

He still has lots of family in the Keystone State.

“It’s very close to home, which is pretty nice,” he said.

The young ace graduated from Hilton Head High School in 2017 and earned a plethora of honors, including being ranked the top prep player in the Palmetto State and first team by USA Today. Not bad for an athletic shortstop who only became a pitcher in his senior year.

After graduation, he rode a scholarship to the University of South Carolina with high expectations. His record and performance there were spotty, compounded by a broken foot in his sophomore year. (In the classroom, he excelled, landing on the SEC academic honor roll for three consecutive years.)

Band of Brothers • Carmen Mlodzinski (far left) attended and graduated from Hilton Head Island High School. In 2017, his senior season, he was named the South Carolina Class 4A Player of the Year.

“It was a great experience going there, but it sucked because a couple of my seasons were cut short,” he said. “But I learned a lot.”

Fast forward, he was masterful on the mound last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he compiled a 3-0 record with a 1.83 ERA. He struck out 43, allowed only 20 hits and walked five in 34 innings.

When the Gamecocks’ season shut down in March, he returned home to the island and has been working out ever since. Adjustments to his new normal were made.

Late bloomer • Mlodzinski grew up playing shortstop, and while he always had impressive arm strength, he didn’t begin pitching until his junior season at Hilton Head Island High School in 2016. He was named USC’s Opening Day starter as a sophomore in 2019.

He still has one more semester to complete his sports-management and entertainment degree. In between, he works out five to six days a week, often with personal fitness trainer Marwin Kline at Lava Fitness on the island, and throws the ball every other day.

Ever since he was a kid, Mlodzinski always envisioned being in the big leagues. “Always,” he said.

“I always enjoyed watching baseball growing up,” he said. “I loved the game growing up so much. There’s baseball in my family’s blood.”

His dad, Thomas, inspired him and coached him early on, then his friends’ dads took over when he was in his pre-teens.

You have to think you’re the most confident person on that field,” he said. “And if you’re not, you’re not going to be successful.”

“I still talk to those guys (friends) all the time,” he said.

Self-confidence is his guiding force.

“You have to think you’re the most confident person on that field,” he said. “And if you’re not, you’re not going to be successful.”

The righty certainly has confidence in his right arm, thanks to a mid-90s fastball, upper-80s slider, low-80s curveball, mid-80s changeup and a sinker from which to choose in his repertoire of pitches. He considers himself to be a finesse-and-power hurler. He kind of reminds baseball fans of hall of famer Greg Maddux.

Home-grown players with major league ability

Here are three pros who have lived here full- or part-time through the years.

Dan Driessen
Driessen, a native islander and Hardeeville High School graduate, was a key member of the world champion “Big Red Machine” in Cincinnati in the 1970s. He played 15 seasons in the big leagues. The 69-year-old owns Driessen Excavating Services on the island and helps coach the Hilton Head High baseball team.

Asher Wojciechowski
Wojciechowski, a Beaufort High graduate, is a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles. He also played in the majors for the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds. He was selected in the first round of the 2010 draft by the Blue Jays and made his Major League debut for the Astros in 2015. His repertoire includes a fastball around 94 miles per hour, a slider in the low to mid 80s and an occasional changeup and curveball.

Brian Harrison
Harrison played at Hilton Head Christian Academy, Hilton Head High and Furman University before being drafted by the Pirates in the 29th round of the 2007 draft. He was later signed by the Mets in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. The first and third baseman spent four seasons in the minors.

The Lowcountry has a long list of professional athletes who have lived here full or part-time through the years.

In tennis, start with full-time resident Stan Smith, a winner at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, who founded and has managed his tennis academy here since the 1970s; Billie Jean King who partnered with the legendary Dennis Van der Meer and played in an invitational tournament in Sea Pines in 1973. Ivan Lendl, the Czech native and former No. 1 player in the world, owned and operated the Ivan Lendl International Junior Tennis Academy on the island and later at Rose Hill for five years.

Among others, add Mark Messier, a six-time Stanley Cup champion and former captain of the New York Rangers, and Isiah Thomas, a star “Bad Boy” on the NBA champions Detroit Pistons. Local baseball players in the big leagues, not so much. But that may change when Mlodzinski reaches the major leagues after being drafted in the first round by the Pirates this spring. The big 21-year-old righty signed a $2.05 million contract.

Here are a few other players with local ties who either played in the majors or were drafted by a team:

Jason Frazier, another Seahawk graduate, was selected in the 38th round by the Florida Marlins in the 1992 draft. The all-purpose switch-hitter played in the Gulf Coast League for two seasons. Many local sports fans remember Frazier as a quarterback, when he led the Seahawks to the Lower State football championship in 1990. His son C.J. also won a Lower State championship as the quarterback for Bluffton High School in 2011.

Jaime Bluma was born in Beaufort and later raised in Owasso, Oklahoma. He was a third round pick by the Kansas City Royals in the 1994 draft. His career in the majors was cut short by injury. He pitched 20 innings in 17 appearances as a Royal, earning five saves.

Randy McGarvey Jr. played for Hilton Head High and Coastal Carolina University before being drafted as a catcher by the Houston Astros in the 26th round of the 2002 MLB draft. He spent seven seasons playing in the New York-Pennsylvania League, the Frontier League and the Atlantic League.

Ryan Kelly attended Hilton Head High and Walters State Community College in Morristown, Tennessee. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 26th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He made his Major League debut with the Atlanta Braves in 2015 and is currently playing in the Mexican League.

Scott Mullen, a Beaufort High graduate, was drafted in the seventh round of the 1996 draft by the Kansas City Royals. He spent five seasons in the Royals’ minor league system before making his Major League debut in 2000. He spent parts of the next three seasons with the Royals before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He pitched primarily for the Dodgers minor league team in 2003, but spent part of the year in the majors. In 2005, he pitched in Japan and then returned to the United States in 2006 to play for the Richmond Braves in AAA.

Adam Mullen, a Beaufort High graduate, was drafted in the 30th round of the 1994 draft by the Atlanta Braves. He spent two seasons in the minors.

Elsewhere in the Palmetto State, notable names etched their legacies in the major leagues.

Willie Randolph, Holly Hill: The long-time second baseman for the NY Yankees played 17 years in the bigs. He also managed the NY Mets.

Larry Doby, Camden: The first African American to play in the American League began his career in 1947. He’s now in the Hall of Fame, after twice leading the league in home runs.

Jim Rice, Anderson: He spent his entire 15-year career with the Boston Red Sox. The Hall of Famer was named the American League MVP in 1978.

Bobo Newsom, Hartsville: Perhaps the best ever pitcher from South Carolina, he hurled for 20 seasons beginning in 1929.

Brett Gardner, Holly Hill: The venerable outfielder for the NY Yankees has spent his 12-year career in the Bronx. Last year, the College of Charleston graduate hit 28 homers at the age of 35.

Al Rosen, Spartanburg: The Cleveland Indian third baseman won the American League’s MVP award in 1953.

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Pickens County: Played for three teams from 1908-1920 and is most famous for allegedly participating in a conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series. He was later acquitted but was banned from baseball by the commissioner. He had a lifetime batting average of .356.