Tonight in Reno, Nevada, baseball’s top minor league players will compete in the Triple-A All Star Game. Two members of the Louisville Bats, pitcher Greg Reynolds and outfielder Billy Hamilton, are on the International League roster. They’ll take on the all-stars of the Pacific Coast League.
He’s not putting up all-star numbers, but players and management alike in Louisville and with the Bats’ parent club Cincinnati Reds give 37 year old catcher Corky Miller a lot of credit for helping his teammates, especially pitchers, reach their potential.
Sitting in the dugout after a recent batting practice at Louisville Slugger Field, Miller recalls that he didn’t really set out to be a catcher. He just was, starting as a child in his native southern California.
“My dad was our coach, he put me back there most of our games. I tried to get out of it when I was in high school, but the coach said, ‘Don’t you catch?’ and I said, ‘yeah,’ and I pretty much caught every game there,” he said.
He’s played for five major league teams, but Corky Miller has spent most of his 15-year professional career in the minor leagues, and much of his minor league career in Louisville.
Last month he played his 500th game as a member of the Bats.
Miller has been called up twice this season by the Cincinnati Reds, most recently last week, to provide backup while starting catcher Ryan Hanigan recovers from injuries.
The hits aren’t as frequent and the base running is slower, but Miller, with his easy manner and trademark Fu Manchu mustache, remains a solid fan favorite, especially in Louisville.
There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to Miller’s facial hair.
“I’ve been here for so long,” Miller said. ”A lot of these, I guess, young adults were kids when they were coming to games and seeing me play. Being here for over 10-11 years, it gets easy for them to remember me.”
Miller seems comfortable in his newer role as a mentor to young players, helping pitchers with the mechanics of their delivery and the tedious work of charting hitters’ tendencies.
“As great as he is, I know he would have liked to have had a great major league career, but even without that, I think it has made him a better person because he can relate to guys at this level and that level,” said Bats’ pitching coach Ted Power.
Miller has earned the respect of teammates on both levels. They say he’s generous with his knowledge of the game and the ups and downs of being a pro baseball player.
Pitcher Daniel Corcino came to the Bats this season from Double-A Pensacola. Miller has been helping the 23 year old Dominican raise his game.
“He always tells me what I need to do for more experience, so I’m always listening to what he says,” Corcino said.
“If they ask questions, I’m here to answer them, and I’m not going to go out of the way and tell them how it is or this is the way to do it, because obviously there are tons of ways to do it,” Miller said.
“But if they’re confused about something, I can put some answers out there, whether they’re right or wrong.”
Miller doesn’t just work with pitchers, occasionally he becomes one. In May, with the Bats’ bullpen depleted for the night, Miller pitched two-thirds of an inning against Columbus, giving up a hit but no runs.
Miller’s status as a veteran and mentor doesn’t necessarily mean he’s completely grown up. Pitching coach Ted Power scoffs at the suggestion that Miller brings a mature presence to the clubhouse.
“You think Corky’s mature?” Power said with a laugh. ”You don’t know him. He is when he needs to be but Corky is a very relaxed type of player and person.”
At age 37, Corky Miller says he doesn’t know how much longer he’ll play baseball.
“It’s harder and harder every year. So, I don’t know, it’s not up to me.”
But he’s not ready to leave the game.
“Whatever God wants me to do, I’ll do after this is over. If it’s managing, being a pitching coach, doing whatever I can do to stay in the game and be out here every day.”
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