Doug Miller had made a mess of his first at bat in a Toledo Mud Hens baseball uniform; he didn’t plan on making two in a row.
The year was 1988 and the Mud Hens – the AAA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers – were in a late season playoff charge.
Miller, who caught the eye of Tigers scouts the year before while at an open tryout for the Cincinnati Reds, was patrolling the outfield for the Tigers’ AA team, the Erie Seawolves.
The Mud Hens needed a center fielder, so Miller packed his bags and headed west.
He squeezed in some practice with the team before the day of his AAA debut dawned.
Was he nervous? No way.
He was the picture of calm on the ride to the park, in the locker room, during batting practice and in the pre-game warmup.
That would change very soon.
“Once game time came and we were throwing out in the outfield, it seemed just like any other day,” he said. “But when I got up to bat for the first time, that was a different story.”
The previously cool-as-a-cucumber Miller came down with a serious case of butterflies.
“I remember walking up to bat and hearing all of these people yelling. And then when I stepped in the box, I was thinking. ‘OK, now what sign did the coach give me?’ I totally forgot what I was supposed to do. I was in La-La land,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I got the bunt signal, and I didn’t bunt. The coach (wasn’t too happy).”
Miller, who currently coaches gymnastics in Grass Valley, got it right the second time.
He laid down a bunt single, then set his sights on second base.
I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I was told I read pitchers very well. And this guy was a right-hander, so he was really easy to read,” Miller said.
The pitcher gave Miller one look, then delivered to home.
“I generally took a two to two-and-a-quarter body- length lead from the bag. And with the jump I got, it was easy,” he said.
Miller – just as he had done umpteen times before through little league, high school and Hot Stove League (it’s the Midwest’s equivalent of the American Legion) – beat the catcher?s throw.
“I felt the tag on my shoulder as I was getting up,” he said.
Miller played out the season in Toledo, then fine- tuned his game over the next seven months, hoping for a shot at Tiger pinstripes the following summer.
“They told me I was going to stay with Toledo and that was no big deal. So I played with them for the rest of the summer. And then I just had enough,” he said.
The daily grind, not to mention the lack of major- league cash, had Miller looking for a change.
“There are people out there who bounce around in the minor leagues for their whole careers. I had a complex where I wanted it all or nothing.”
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The Little League District 11 postseason is off to a hot start.