Miller the main attraction at Caravan's Louisville stop
Longtime Bats catcher and fan favorite highlights Reds contingent at Kentucky event
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Reds Caravan stop at Louisville Slugger Field on Thursday night featured a popular 14-game winner in pitcher Mat Latos, general manager Walt Jocketty and nationally-known broadcaster Thom Brennaman.
And while the crowd of nearly 1,000 Reds fans warmly received the group, they saved their biggest and loudest applause for when catcher Corky Miller was introduced. Latos was among those who rose from his seat to clap with respect.
"I believe, honestly, that he could run for mayor here. I've said that on the air many times," said Matt Andrews, the play-by-play radio voice for Triple-A Louisville, the Reds' top Minor League affiliate.
The appreciation from Louisville for Miller, 37, is real and it's sincere. The feeling is also mutual.
"I've spent a lot of time with them," Miller said.
The back of Miller's baseball card won't have stats that will jump out and poke you in the eye. Over only 216 Major League games spread out since 2001, he's a .193 career hitter. Over 16 Minor League seasons, he's batted .249. However, Miller is well respected by teammates and by pitchers for his skills behind the plate. Fans less familiar with Miller might remember him most because of his big, burly mustache.
Familiarity is certainly not an issue in Louisville, where the 2014 season will mark Miller's 10th spent in the Kentucky city on the Ohio River. His ninth season last year set the Louisville franchise record for most with the team. With 523 career games for the Bats, Miller is 22 shy of breaking Bill Lyons' record of 544 games. He's on the leaderboard for several other career numbers. Last season, he was feted with his own bobblehead night at the ballpark.
Miller was first with Louisville from 2001-04. After playing for a few other organizations and big league clubs, he returned to the Reds organization and Louisville in '09.
"There are connections that go back 10-12 years," said Miller, a native of more rural areas around Yucaipa, Calif. "There are people that show me pictures of me and them together when they were 10 years old, and now they're 20. Or guys that were five years old and went to camps I was at, and now they're 15 and 16. It's crazy. I've met a lot of friends here and a lot of acquaintances that turned into friends. You see some people so many times, you get that familiarity and friendship just by being around each other."
What's resonated more than Miller's statistics is how he has treated the people with whom he's come into contact during those years.
"I think he relates to the people, to the culture, to the kind of mentality of the city and its work ethic," Andrews said. "Obviously, when you're anywhere 10 years -- especially at this level, not at the highest level but you're trying to get back there like he continuously does and keeps coming back -- that's what makes him so endearing to fans. He's interactive with the fans. He's the country boy. He's a big part of what we do in the community too."
Last season, Miller played 17 games for the Reds while Ryan Hanigan was on the disabled list. It was his first big league action since 2010. Invited to big league camp every Spring Training, including next month, Miller is viewed as a valuable resource to work with pitchers and mentor young catchers.
Once at Reds Spring Training when some young players complained about doing an after-workout autograph event, Miller subtly told them: "If you don't like it, play worse." The message being that this type of attention can quickly fade, so appreciate it.
Miller contemplated putting the shin guards away for good and going into coaching in 2014. There were also some feelers from other organizations that might have wanted Miller to play for them. Minor League player salaries can get into the $100,000 range, which certainly isn't a bad way to make a living.
"It's just hard to think now about playing anywhere else," Miller said. "If you're not going to be in the big leagues, I've got to be here. I don't see myself going anywhere else to play just for a shot. I have the same shot here that I'd have anywhere else unless I was signed to a guaranteed contract. Without a guaranteed contract, I'd just assume sign back with the Reds and play in Louisville."
Prospect Tucker Barnhart, who will be playing his first season in Triple-A this year, will likely benefit from Miller's presence. It was the same relationship that helped Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco develop into a big leaguer when he was at Louisville.
Miller will also be available to help the team with community events. He hopes to work with Wounded Warriors to be able to organize some softball games at Louisville Slugger Field for veterans to play and have fun.
"The people here that run the everyday stuff have been great for me," Miller said. "I try to do all the stuff that I can."
As for the loud applause at events like Thursday's, Miller is a low-key type of dude who doesn't seek attention. But he'll never turn his nose up toward fans who have treated him so well for many years.
"It's hard to put myself up there, but, obviously, it feels good," Miller said. "You don't want to downplay what other people feel is always my thought."