By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – In the forgettable sequel “Major League II,” the Cleveland Indians land a big-money free agent named Jack Parkman in the offseason. When he steps to the plate, the cocky Parkman does a theatrical shake.
“That little shimmy makes the ladies here in Cleveland go crazy,” says broadcaster Harry Doyle, played by Bob Uecker.
But when the team struggles out of the gate and the front office runs short on money, the Indians are forced to trade Parkman to the rival Chicago White Sox.
“Parkman does his trademark shimmy,” Doyle says later in the film, “. . . it makes all the ladies here in Cleveland puke.”
It’s been a reverse reception in Reading for Arpad Mihaly, a Royal killer-turned-Royal hero.
During his time with the Wheeling Nailers last year, Mihaly had five goals and nine points in just three regular-season games against Reading. He then picked up three assists in the ECHL North semifinals when Wheeling took out the Royals in four games.
Some Reading fans affectionately dubbed him “Armpit” Mihaly, among other things. Despite the fact that he went to high school at Wyoming Seminary, near Wilkes-Barre, and that he’s the first Romanian to play in a North American pro league, an April feature on him in this paper nearly led some fans to drop the gloves with a sportswriter.
But it’s funny what a different uniform will do.
Due in part to geography, the Royals landed Mihaly in the offseason. All he’s done is score 21 points in his first 13 games while making fans cherish every game that he’s here.
“I’m having a good time here,” the 26-year-old said. “We have a good bunch of guys, a good coaching staff and obviously the whole organization’s a good organization to be in. And the fans, it’s a good town to play in. I can’t say anything bad about it.”
Mihaly, a seventh-year pro, entered the weekend tied for first in the ECHL with 12 goals. His 21 points rank third in the league. Even demanding head coach Karl Taylor couldn’t ask for much more from a guy.
“Yeah, he could have two goals a game,” Taylor joked. “No, he’s been very good for us. Obviously, we’re enjoying our time with Arpad. He’s an American League veteran. He hasn’t got that opportunity (to go back up) yet, but I’m sure he will at some point if he continues at this pace.
“We’re gonna enjoy the time we have him. We really enjoy him as a person and as a teammate, and the fact he scores a goal a game isn’t bad either.”
He’s been at his best at key moments. The term “timely goal” is a bit redundant (what’s an untimely goal?), but the ever-composed Mihaly has delivered in several crucial moments. Like when his team was down 3-0 against Johnstown on Nov. 12, or when the Royals were trying to finish off Toledo in the third period Nov. 18.
“He’s a real calming player out there,” Taylor said. “He doesn’t panic often. We rely on him to score, and he likes that. A lot of guys wouldn’t accept that responsibility. And that’s because of his maturity. There have been times this year where we’ve needed a big goal, and he’s gotten it.
“That’s a lot to be said about a person when you know it’s your time to step up and they go and find a way to do it.”
Mihaly believes he’s at his best when he’s thrust into that go-to role.
He’s spent plenty of time in the AHL, including an entire season with Binghamton in 2004-05 and most of last year with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. But AHL teams haven’t asked Mihaly to play a lead part.
“Maybe I didn’t get, consistently, the chance I needed because the type of player that I am,” he said. “If you play me in key situations, I’m a good player. I thought I could produce in the AHL, too, but this is the business.
“They’ve got the draft picks and the young guys coming in every year. It’s tough to crack a top line in the AHL, but that’s what I have to be to do my part in a game. It’s been tough.”
A free agent in the offseason, Mihaly failed to get a one-way contract with an AHL team. He turned down some more lucrative offers to sign with Reading, which has developed a good rep for getting guys AHL opportunities.
It also gave him a chance to play close to Wilkes-Barre, where Mihaly’s developed deep roots. His fiancee and adopted American parents all live there, and he owns a home in the area.
Thus far, Mihaly’s seventh season seems to be a lucky one.
“I always liked the Reading team, even back to when I played against them,” he said. “They were always a good team. And I knew Karl puts a good team together. So I wanted to be part of a great organization.”