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“BASEBALL IS PART OF MY DNA”
Andrew Miller’s playing days are over, but the game will always be a part of him
By Jerry Crasnick

Andrew Miller stands 6-foot-7, so he always required some extra effort to fit into seats on buses, cabs and planes. It’s understandable that travel is one of the aspects of major-league baseball he will miss the least.

 

Like most players, he’ll miss the camaraderie and competition the most.

 

“I already have moments where I catch myself thinking about pitching mechanics or something else that I probably don't ever have to think about again,’’ he says. “It's just second nature to me at this point.’’

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Miller announced his retirement last week after 16 seasons, 612 big-league appearances and two All-Star berths. The career postmortems inevitably focused on his impact as a late-inning bullpen weapon and his leadership as a player advocate with the MLBPA.
 

Miller prefers to focus on all the relationships he formed as a teammate and a friend. He considered himself fortunate to play for Jim Leyland, Terry Francona, Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi, among several other managers. David Ortiz instilled confidence in him, Dustin Pedroia inspired him and Bob Tewksbury helped salvage his career as a mental skills coach in Boston. He received career guidance from Todd Jones in Detroit, lockered next to Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin in Cleveland and came to admire Adam Wainwright as a leader of the pitching staff in St. Louis. 
 

“I could grab a pack of baseball cards from the last 10 years and find people that mean a lot to me and helped me,’’ he says.
 

Miller recently sat down with the MLBPA to reflect on his time in baseball and look forward to the next chapter. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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What’s it like to step away from a game you’ve been playing since you were a kid?

From the beginning, I was just a fan. My dad handed me a ball and a bat like every kid, and I started with hitting a Wiffle ball around the house and then throwing the ball over the house and playing Little League with my friends. I came along at a good time. I grew up in Gainesville, Fla., right when the Braves got really good. The first games I remember watching were the ’91 worst-to-first Braves and getting attached to Steve Avery and Tom Glavine and eventually Greg Maddux and all those guys coming through there. Those were great teams and it just really grabbed hold of me.

You were a high pick out of North Carolina and struggled as a starter before embracing a relief role.
How do you reflect upon that experience?

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Sometimes it's forgotten in the scheme of things that this is a really challenging game and most people don't find success right away. The guys that do are the exception to the rule. Those are the Hall of Famers and the perennial All-Stars. The rest of us have lots of ups and downs, and particularly at the start of your career trying to find your way is a challenge. I'm just grateful I got the opportunities -- particularly the opportunity to go to Boston and join that organization. It really seemed to be the turning point for me.

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You played 16 seasons in the majors.
What were the one or two most memorable?

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Of course, 2016 would be the first one that comes to mind. I was traded from New York to Cleveland kind of unexpectedly and probably against my wishes. Then I ended up on a team that made it to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it done. But I made a great group of friends that I still stay in touch with and travel with, and I don’t expect that to end. I ended up in a great city at a great time, and that was pretty impossible to top.
 

Second, I would say probably the very first taste I got in Detroit. I got welcomed to the big leagues as a September call-up and basically jumped into a team full of veterans and Hall of Fame-type players and saw a run to the World Series. So that was pretty neat.

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What’s it like to step away from a game you’ve been playing since you were a kid?

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What’s it like to step away from a game you’ve been playing since you were a kid?

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What’s it like to step away from a game you’ve been playing since you were a kid?

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You played an active role in Players Association leadership and were involved in multiple CBA negotiations.
How did that evolve?

I got lucky in the sense that I got elected to be the team rep in Miami. Once that happens, you start to meet people and make connections and see the inner workings and appreciate how important the union is -- what they can do for players even on things a lot of people probably think of as minor issues. They mean a lot to the individual player, and to be able to help guys through that helped me understand that side of the game. Once you get invested and get to know the people, it's almost like a second team that you're a part of. 

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As you transition to retirement, what are your concerns for the game? What does baseball have to do to get to a better place?

It’s hard to compare generations, but the talent and personalities right now are through the roof – I think better than I've ever seen in my career. It's a lot of fun to watch these young guys that are exciting and have Hall of Fame talent find success and put their stamp on the game immediately and have these long, bright careers ahead of them. 
 

One of my concerns is that we’re not embracing them enough. I have an eight-year-old son (Max) and a four-year-old daughter (Hazel), and my son is obsessed with baseball. I want the game to be as welcoming to him as possible, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily what's happening. The game has a lot of barriers to enter. It's expensive to play, and a lot of the games start late at night. I remember the way the game grabbed hold of me as a child and falling in love with it as a five- or six-year-old and not being willing to let go of it. I worry that maybe we're not doing as good a job of grabbing those young kids that are the ones we want to make lifetime fans out of.
 

There are players I want to root for. I want to sit down with my son and tell him, ‘Watch Jack Flaherty. If you want to be good at baseball, do what Jack does. Watch Alex Reyes and what he’s going to do. If you want to play shortstop, watch Francisco Lindor and do it like him.’ That type of thing. Baseball is part of my DNA at this point. I don’t know how I'll participate in the future, but I know I will (in some way).

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Any other concerns?

I'm sure I'll forget somebody, but when I was in Detroit I stepped into a team with Kenny Rogers and Pudge Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield and Sean Casey and Placido Polanco and Carlos Guillen and Todd Jones. I mean, it was just endless the guys with 15-20 years of service time. In most cases, outside of a few, we don’t see that anymore.
 

I was able to learn and absorb from that type of veteran leadership, and I worry that a lot of teams are missing out on that. Maybe we're undervaluing how important it is to have those guys who can make the rest of your team grow and learn and understand the nuance of the game and the little pieces that can help you win. I think it’s something that’s underappreciated, and we should make sure we have as part of the game moving forward.

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OK, so it’s time to transition to a few baseball-related questions. We looked up your career numbers on Baseball-reference.com and saw that you went 4-for-74 as a hitter. Do you remember your four hits?

I remember the first one off Tim Redding. I know it was like historically bad. I don’t want to pick on Jon Lester, but it was fun to watch him struggle so much for a while. He’s a much bigger name and he was a Hall of Fame-quality pitcher, but to have somebody else take the limelight away of me possibly being the worst hitting pitcher ever felt good for a while.
 

I was really, really bad as a hitter. I could hit batting practice pretty well, but it was different once I stood in the box and the ball was moving all over the place. Even against the slow stuff. Some of my first at-bats were against Jamie Moyer, and I thought he was throwing 150 miles an hour. I have a great appreciation for guys that can hit.

What were your favorite road cities? 

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I hated New York at first, because it was so intimidating. Before you had a smart phone with maps on it and you knew your way around, I was afraid to go too far from my hotel. It intimidated me. Then once I understood the grid and got familiar with a few places and got more comfortable exploring, I fell in love with New York and it led to me wanting to play there. Just the food and the people and whatever you have in mind that day is available in New York City. It’s a pretty special place.
 

I love good food, so walking around in places where you can get a good bite to eat is pretty hard to beat. Seattle always fits that. It seems like Seattle gets a bad rap for weather, but every time you go there in the summer, it's about the best weather in the country. It’s beautiful. So Seattle is also at the top of the list for me.

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Favorite ballparks?

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It’s pretty hard to beat Fenway Park, with all the history there. We had some up and down years while I was in Boston, but we won a World Series, and I got a chance to sit in that bullpen and just kind of absorb it when they sold out every night. When the fans are cheering for the team and singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ and you’re listening to certain walkup songs or whatever, it’s an impossible atmosphere to beat. I was incredibly lucky to play there.

Favorite bullpen to sit in for 3-4 hours?

Most bullpens are pretty fun, because the group down there tends to form a bond and we can have fun in any situation -- even a place like Oakland, where my head would hit the plywood ceiling. But the best view in baseball is at Camden Yards. You’ve got to be careful walking down the cobblestone as you go into the game. It's a little slippery in metal spikes. But as far as a place to sit and watch a game, it’s impossible to beat. The neatest thing that ever happened in my short time with the Orioles was watching Adam Jones kind of disappear behind the center field fence and then hop up and rob a home run about 15 feet in front of us.

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Most entertaining bullpen contingent to be a part of?

Every single one of them was great. I was only in Baltimore for a couple of months, but that one was special. As far as a reliever, I think Darren O’Day is probably the closest I've ever seen to being a true team leader. He and Nick Markakis and Adam Jones were the guys that everybody looked to on that team. It’s not often that you see that out of a reliever. 
 

Boston was my first taste of extended bullpen time, and what a great group that was. Koji (Uehara) was incredible. Matt Albers is a great friend of mine from sitting in bullpens with him, and Craig Breslow and Burke Badenhop were both there. Daniel Bard, one of my great friends from college, was in the bullpen in Boston with me for a little bit, so it was a pretty fun place to be. We're focused on the game and what we have to do, but a lot of times it’s just cracking up and trying to distract ourselves from the stress of the game. 

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Favorite bullpen to sit in for 3-4 hours?

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Which leads to the next question: Funniest teammate you ever played with?

John Brebbia was about as good as it gets in St. Louis. He's in San Francisco now. Anybody that gets to play with him is in for a true treat. Matt Albers was pretty good in Boston, and Koji was incredible, even with the language barrier. He was always cracking jokes and had perfect timing. Tommy Hunter was pretty special to be around. He was a firecracker. Josh Tomlin was good when he was in the bullpen. There always seems to be at least one guy that takes the cake down there and provides the entertainment for the other six or seven guys.

What are you looking forward to doing this summer that you haven't been able to do for the last 20 years because of baseball?

I'm from Florida, and even in high school and college I didn’t get to do typical summer things. It was all baseball-focused. I'm looking forward to playing more golf and spending more time at the beach. I’ve never been scalloping. I live right near the best place to go scalloping, and I'm looking forward to doing that one of these days. I really just want to spend time with my kids and my family enjoying the house that we built in Tampa that I've missed for eight months out of the year.

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Is there a piece of advice or two that stuck with you that you’d like to pass down to the up-and-coming guys?

I took stuff from everywhere I could grab it. I remember in Detroit, all the starting pitchers would sit together and listen to Kenny Rogers tell stories and give advice and just trying to absorb that. He was in his 40s and he had been playing for about 20 years, so I really appreciated that. It’s the kind of thing Adam Wainwright does now in St. Louis.
 

My dad had a saying for me when I was a kid, and it’s a little rough. He said, ‘If you’re going to be dumb, you’ve got to be tough.’ That’s the one that sticks with me and I tell my son now. We're all going to make mistakes and have things we regret, but you’ve got to be tough and move on.

You’re going to have a lot of different opportunities. Where do you see your path taking you after baseball?

I'm hoping some stuff kind of comes to me and some doors open as I say I'm officially walking away from baseball. My mom is all over me to graduate college in one form or another. I've been looking into that and I'll probably be working on an application for that pretty soon. I'm looking into possibly getting an MBA, which I can do online through the university and now I’ll have a Carolina degree. I don't know if I'll be able to pull it off, but I'm going to try.

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You would finish up at North Carolina?

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Oh yeah. They’re the ones that let me into school, and I'd like to essentially pay it back. My wife's got a Duke degree hanging on the wall here in the house, so I need to put something up to combat that a little bit. Her whole family is Duke grads – both her brothers and both of her parents.

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So it’s going to get a little crazy with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils meeting in the Final Four this weekend. Any predictions?

I’m afraid to make one. Emotions are all over the place in it. We beat them last time and are playing well. But so are they, and that (Paolo) Banchero kid is a star.

Will it be tense around the Miller household?

My wife will actually be out of town, so I don’t have to worry about sleeping on the couch. I’ve got the kids, and Max is a Carolina fan at this point. He tries to play it both ways, but he probably leans toward sucking up to me for some reason.

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