Milledge happy for new start with Nats

Milledge happy for new start

VIERA, Fla. -- Unlike the previous day, when Elijah Dukes was introduced to the media, Lastings Milledge's arrival to Nationals camp didn't get much attention on Thursday. There wasn't a press conference for Milledge, nor were there a horde of TV cameras around his locker.

Wearing a blue do-rag, Nationals t-shirt and red shorts, Milledge, 23, was talking to local reporters about starting over with a new team. He is slated to be Washington's everyday center fielder, his natural position.

That's fine with Milledge, because he says he hits better when he plays center field and he has the stats to back it up. When he played center for the Mets last year, Milledge was 18-for-53 (.340) with a home run and five RBIs. That would be far better that what Nationals center fielders produced last year. They hit a combined .255 with 11 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .321 on-base percentage.

"Right and left field are tough positions to play. When I was in center field, everything was so natural that I really didn't think about anything out there. I just played the game," he said.

During his time with the Mets, Milledge was in and out of the big leagues. In 115 Major League games the past two years, he had a .257 batting average with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs.

Milledge had less than a favorable reputation in New York, because he had given high-fives to a bunch of fans at Shea Stadium after hitting his first Major League home run and recorded a rap song, "Bend Ya Knees."

He even fell out of favor with some of his teammates in 2006, because of his arrogance on and off the field. In fact, during a trip to Washington that year, someone on the team left a note on his locker stating, "Know your place, Rook."

"I tell you the truth, if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way that I did it," Milledge said. "I have no regrets what I did, the way I played the game or anything."

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During his tough times in New York, manager Manny Acta, then the Mets' third-base coach, took Milledge under his wing. Acta didn't think it was a big deal, for example, that Milledge was slapping hands with the fans at Shea.

"I just like to treat people the way I want to be treated. I have never been a guy that agrees on breaking in a rookie by treating him differently than other people," Acta said. "I put my arms around him and taught him some of the stuff that goes on. He's a great kid and you'll find out."

Said Milledge about his relationship with Acta back then: "He really made me play the way I wanted to play. He was a real big help to me. He's a young guy in the field of managing and I'm a young guy as far as being a ballplayer, so we both have something in common."

Milledge is playing for Acta, thanks to a trade that sent him to Washington for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church on Nov. 30. Milledge expected to be traded. In fact, his name had been mentioned in trade talks the last two seasons. However he didn't expect to be a member of the Nationals.

"It didn't surprise me that they traded me," Milledge said. "I was surprised where I went. I didn't think I would be in the same division. You would rather see the Mets trade their best prospect [to a non-division team]."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.