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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Matt Miller: Baseball's Side-Armed Pitching Dynamo

The sheer thrill of playing professional baseball must be enormous. Imagine the feeling one would have after making the major leagues after toiling for seven years in various levels of independent and minor league ball. Former pitcher Matt Miller is someone who is very familiar with this, as he had a lengthy, yet ultimately satisfying journey through his baseball career.

Following high school in Leland, Mississippi, the right-handed Miller bounced around the college scene, attending Delta State University, Mississippi Delta Community College and the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He went undrafted, yet signed on with the Greenville Bluesmen of the independent Big South League in 1996 at the age of 24.

Throwing from a unique side-arm angle, Miller struggled in his first season, shuttling between the bullpen and starting (posting a 6.07 ERA in 19 games).  However, the next year was a completely different story, as his 12-3 record and 2.26 ERA in 15 starts earned him recognition as the league’s pitcher of the year and a contract with the Texas Rangers in 1998.

Once he joined the pro ranks, Miller moved exclusively to relief. Over the next six seasons he pitched in the minors for the Rangers, San Diego Padres, Oakland A’s and Colorado Rockies. He posted solid numbers but nothing that would get a pitching prospect on the wrong side of 25 any real consideration.

In 2003, at the age of 31, Miller had the season of his life, which propelled him to the majors. Appearing 61 games for the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate, he was 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 63.1 innings. His dominance resulted in a brief call-up in the middle of the season, spanning four games, where he posted a 2.08 ERA. His major league debut came on June 27th against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He threw a scoreless sixth inning in a 5-3 loss—with a strikeout of Kevin Young and picking off Jeff Reboulet from first base being the highlights. 

Granted free agency that offseason, Miller signed with the Cleveland Indians and spent parts of the next four years as part of their bullpen. In a combined 96 appearances with the Tribe, he was 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA and two saves. A potential career year in 2005 (1.82 ERA in 23 games) was derailed by an elbow injury that kept him out of the majority of the season and ultimately hampered him the rest of his career.

Following a final season with the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate in 2008, Miller hung it up at the age of 36. He now owns a baseball player development business in Mississippi and thus remains close to the game that he worked so hard to master and raise himself to its highest peaks. Keep reading for Miller’s responses to questions about his playing career.

Matt Miller Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player was Roger Clemens. Regardless of the steroid allegations, he was the first player that really got me interested in taking my game to another level.

Can you describe how you came to be signed after independent ball?: I was signed by the Texas Rangers after winning the Pitcher of the Year Award in the Big South League in 1997. I think they signed the Hitter of the Year also, so it wasn't as much about scouting me out, but probably more about let’s take a chance, lol.

How did you come to your signature side-armed throwing motion?: I started throwing side arm during my sophomore year in junior college. My coach, Terry Thompson, suggested it one day and I immediately thought he was giving up on me. Little did I know it changed the course of my life!

You debuted in the majors in your eighth professional season. Did you ever come close to giving up?: My wife and I decided to play until I was no longer offered a contract so I would never be able to wonder, ‘what if?’

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: My favorite moment was probably getting a save in Anaheim and facing Troy Glaus, Vladimir Guerrero, and Tim Salmon to do it (note from Baseball Historian- Miller actually retired Jeff DaVanon, Tim Salmon and Jose Molina to notch the save that day). Didn't get many save opportunities, so that was special.

Can you give a little insight about what it was like to fight for an MLB roster spot year after year?: I only went to camp a couple of times feeling like I had a guaranteed job, so I had to always go in ready to compete. It’s a tough spot to be in sometimes because in order to make a roster, friends may have to fail. I never rooted for my teammates to fail, but on occasion their failure may have secured a spot for me or others.

If you could do anything differently in your playing career, what would it have been and why?: I am very satisfied with my career, but if there is one thing I would have changed it would have been my physical conditioning. We have added more focus in that area with my business and I can see the results in some of our athletes.

What are you up to since retiring as a player?: I own 59 Baseball and Fitness in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I tried a few other things but felt like something was missing and decided to stick with what I know.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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