Ian Miller gets it. He grew up in Philadelphia, and went to college in New York, so when the Boston Red Sox faithful let him hear it for a batting average reading .000, he didn’t take it personally.
“They were heckling me because my batting average was so low,” said Miller, who the Minnesota Twins acquired in an August trade from the Seattle Mariners. “There was a long time and I was standing there and these guys were heckling me behind me. ‘You stink. Your batting average is so low.’ Then they looked me up and were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s your debut! Good luck!’
“I was chuckling a little bit, but I was just remaining in the game, remaining present, and trying to just be in the moment.”
Miller doesn’t seem bothered by much. A 14th-round pick out of Wagner College, a small liberal arts school in New York City, he says he’d be willing to clean the dugouts in the fifth inning. So he wasn’t too offended when he was used as a defensive sub in the eighth inning on Wednesday and then pinch-hit for before he could get his first career at-bat.
“It was my first at-bat. I’m all over the place a little bit. It was my first game in the majors, so throwing them in there is whatever. Whatever you guys need,” he said. “I was making some jokes after I came back in, he was a left-handed pitcher (Darwinzon Hernandez) and was throwing 97-98, and I was like, ‘He wouldn’t want no part of what I have.’”
Miller was acquired mostly as a defensive replacement and a pinch runner. The Twins liked his speed, and knew he had good character. He’d be willing to accept any role he was put in, even if the first base he steals would put him fifth overall on a team known for power.
“It makes me and my skill set valuable, but I think stolen bases are kind of like the way I see it the last couple of years, a lost art almost,” he said. “Especially when teams 1 through 9 can hit the ball out of the ballpark, whether it’s a righty or lefty pitching. And then four or five guys on the bench can hit the ball out of the park at any time. I think it makes me more comfortable with who I am and what I can do.”
“We heard really positive things about him as a teammate, as a person, work ethic, things like that,” said Rocco Baldelli. “Just a really good character guy coming in. That’s all held true in every way. He’s thanked us all numerous times. He’s told us, ‘I’ll probably thank all of you again a few more times, which he then proceeded to do.’”
Asked if Miller will receive an at-bat, or have a career like Moonlight Graham, who appeared as a right fielder for one game in 1905 and never got a swing a bat, Baldelli said he would receive one.
“He’s going to get his opportunity to get up to the plate and take some swings at some point, hopefully soon. In that instance, we had a pretty competitive game, we had Garv out there ready to go, ready to hit, but we’ll see Ian out there again.”
And when Miller gets the chance, he knows he’s done everything he can to be ready.
“Not anxious, just excited,” he said. “The pressure isn’t there. I’m here to run. I’m here to play defense so that’s where my focus is. If I show with the bat and I get an opportunity and I can come through for the team, it’s a plus.”
Sitting in the stands with the hecklers at Fenway on Wednesday were his mom and his girlfriend. He said he had a few friends see him in Chicago and Detroit, but he’s a “hermit crab” and keeps a close inner circle.
His late father, Mark, played at UCLA and was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1979 draft, would have loved to have seen his debut. As would have his uncle, Dan. But he got an opportunity to sign their names on the Green Monster, making them forever part of baseball history.
“Yesterday my mom was out on the field and they took us back there and she signed too. It was pretty cool,” he said. “My dad had passed away when I was in college, so I put his name on there, and it was pretty special. My uncle has passed away too, and he’s a die-hard baseball fan, so they’re both up there next to me. Yeah, it was pretty cool.”