Miles Mikolas’ journey from South Florida to Major League Baseball took a winding route.
The Jupiter native went from a virtually unwanted pitcher out of high school — he had no Division I offers and even junior colleges considered him just a walk-on prospect — to a berth in the 2018 MLB All-Star Game.
His 2019 season, which included a 1.50 ERA and a 1-1 record in the playoffs for the St. Louis Cardinals, culminated Tuesday with his induction into the Nova Southeastern University Athletics Hall of Fame.
He was joined in the NSU 2019 Hall of Fame Class by former swimmers Erin Black and Oskar Nordstrand, golfer Taylor Collins, and program-launching rowing coach John Gartin. Black, Nordstrand, Collins, and Gartin were all part of national titles at NSU.
“I’m super-excited and super-honored,” Mikolas, 31, told the Miami Herald on Monday. “It’s an incredible list of people I’m going in with.”
Mikolas, a 6-5, 220-pound right-hander, said he was a late bloomer in high school, with his fastball topping out “maybe mid-80s [mph] at best”. His only offers were from NCAA Division II schools — Flagler College in St. Augustine and NSU.
He chose the Sharks, who figured Mikolas was projectable to improve due to his height. Mike Mominey, who was then NSU’s baseball coach and is now its athletic director, took a chance on Mikolas, and it paid off.
As a junior, Mikolas went 7-2 with a 2.06 ERA, a 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and five complete games, inspiring the San Diego Padres to draft him in the seventh round.
He remains the highest-drafted player ever from NSU, and he’s also the third in program history to reach the majors, arriving on May 5, 2012 against the Marlins.
The first batter he faced that night was Giancarlo Stanton, who drilled a home run, and Mikolas was back in the minors exactly one month later and out of baseball following the 2014 season.
But that’s when Mikolas’ life took a detour — a very long detour.
Mikolas and his wife Lauren — they were newlyweds at the time — headed to Japan, where he signed a one-year, $700,000 contract.
The couple stayed in Japan for three years — Lauren became a social-media celebrity in the Far East — and Mikolas parlayed his 31-13 record and 2.18 ERA in Japan into a two-year, life-changing, $15.5 million contract with the Cardinals, signing in December 2017.
Mikolas credits his breakthrough overseas to watching and learning from Japanese pitchers.
“It was about trying to have balance in my pitching delivery,” he said. “Starting with good balance and ending with good balance is key.”
Mikolas said he extends the “balance” theme to his diet and to his home life. He and Lauren recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary, and they have three children, first a daughter and then twins (a boy and a girl).
Lauren delivered the twins two weeks early last year, causing him to miss the 2018 All-Star Game. Lauren and the kids were fine.
Mikolas, who throws a fastball that ranges between 93 and 95 mph, has been durable, starting 32 games in each of the past two seasons.
After signing a four-year, $68 million extension in February, Mikolas was the Cardinals’ Game 1 starter in the 2019 National League Division Series, and he gets to go to spring training every year in his hometown of Jupiter.
Mikolas can even find the bright side of the Cardinals getting swept by the Washington Nationals in the NL Championship Series last month. The Nationals went on to win the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
“Pitching in the playoffs is different,” Mikolas said. “But it’s fun. The crowds are more amped up. The stakes are higher. Every inning feels like the ninth.
“[The Nationals] were the team I was rooting for [in the World Series]. It still sucks that we lost. But it makes us look better that we lost to the World Series champs.”