Pepper Corky Miller with questions about his Pioneer League days, and his response usually comes with the qualifier “it was a long time ago.”
Indeed, it’s been 17 seasons since Miller, an undrafted catcher out of Yucaipa, Calif., made the rounds in Montana, Idaho, Utah and Canada as part of the 1998 Billings Mustangs.
He does have one favorite story, however.
“Playing in Butte, Mont.,” Miller says, his Fu Manchu-covered face slowly breaking into a grin as the memory hits. “I think that’s one of the only games I remember. I’d been hurt, my left shoulder was almost blown out from being hit so many times by pitches.
“We were getting shut out and we hadn’t been shut out all year. I wasn’t playing and I told (manager) Russ Nixon, ‘We ain’t getting shut out. Put me in.’ I pinch-hit and hit a homer. I remember that one. I told Russ I was a bit pumped up about that one.”
Miller was back in Billings for four games as a part-time roving instructor for the Cincinnati Reds. Technically, Miller is still an active player; he’s on the disabled list for Louisville, the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate.
In the meantime, the Reds asked Miller if he’d fill a void and work with the organization’s catchers. Miller went home, spent some time with the family, and agreed to do it.
The Reds have always been high on Miller as a coaching prospect. Besides his affable personality, Miller has seen about all there is to see through 11 seasons and 216 games in the major leagues and 17 seasons and 1,062 games in the minor leagues.
He was supposed to join the Reds as a coach following last season. But when injuries hit the Reds’ catching corps this year, Miller was needed in Louisville to fill out the roster. Now, the transition time to the coaching ranks might be right, even if Miller still has the itch to play.
“I’ve always been an approachable guy, I feel like, and we can have communications and conversations (with young players) about certain situations, what they’ve seen, what I’ve seen,” Miller says. “I know I don’t know everything about catching, but I’ve seen a lot.”
Miller is a study in perseverance, which is good for players in a rookie-level league. He’s never had more than 114 at-bats in any of his major league seasons, but he is Louiville’s career leader in games played and doubles, having spent parts of 11 seasons with the Bats.
“It’s been hard, but I’ve made some good friends, and I’ve loved every minute of it,” Miller says of his playing days. “Lately, it’s been, wow, I could be home. But what else am I going to do? It’s what I’ve done and it’s what I love doing. Hopefully, it just goes on to something else.”