Under the radar.
That's how Joe Cirelli, Mesa Community College baseball coach, talks about former Douglas outfielder Bryan Miller, who hit .353 and played a key role in helping the Thunderbirds reach the Division II World Series.
Miller played so well, especially at the tail end of March and in April and May that he was a second-team All-American, and that's a rare feat, according to Cirelli.
"I'd have to go back, but I think the last time we had a freshman All-American was when Mickey Hatcher (1975-76) was here," Cirelli said in a recent phone interview. "Bryan definitely exceeded expectations.
"I saw him at the Kelley Showcase (after his junior year) and made some notes. Steve Mays (Reno High) mentioned him and then a scout (Joe Nosenzo) called me about him. I went back over my notes. I worked him out at Reno High before last year's showcase. This was a kid that could run and throw and had a little bit of pop. He came in under the radar."
Miller is not such an unknown now. Cirelli believes that Miller, if he continues to improve, will have plenty of options after his sophomore year.
"He still has a ways to go which is really exciting because he's basically learning how to play the game," Cirelli said. "We've just barely scratched the surface."
And, whatever honors come rolling Miller's way, he is quick to deflect a lot of praise to Cirelli, the veteran head coach.
"I feel like coach Cirelli has made me a better player," Miller said. "It's the way I handle the game; the way I think about it and what to do. You just can't go out and do whatever you want. Natural ability alone isn't enough all the time. You have to know the game."
Miller's ascent to All-American status wasn't instant. When the season started, he was used a lot as a defensive replacement, and when he did start he batted down in the order.
Part of that was the on-going adjustment to using wood bats and the other part was because of a flaw in his swing.
"I wasn't doing so well and then I changed my swing," Miller said. "I had my elbow up and Skip (Cirelli) told me to bring it down. By having my elbow up, I was swinging up on the ball."
And, he was a dead pull hitter. Once his swing was ironed out, Miller started hitting the ball to all fields, thus becoming much more dangerous. He started moving up in the order, finishing the season in the No. 3 spot
"Once he found out how to get inside the ball, he started driving the ball to the opposite gap," Cirelli said. "When I worked him out in Reno, his mechanics weren't the best, but the way the ball would spin off the bat, and it came off hard. That's something you can't teach."
The highlight of Miller's season, and the game that turned him around, came in March against Yavapai Community College. Miller hit for the cycle, going 5 for 5 in a 13-9 defeat.
It was his first cycle, and undoubtedly one of the most exciting moments of his career. Miller said he completed the cycle with a double, not a triple, as is usually the case when a hitter goes for the cycle.
The 5-10, 175-pound Miller was a tough out the rest of the way. By the time the T-Birds were eliminated after three games in the World Series, Miller had become the team leader in average, doubles (18) and triples (7).
Not bad for a guy who had barely swung a wood bat before he went to Mesa.
"I actually liked it better," he said. "You don't get cheap hits (off the handle) all the time. We used wood a little at the Best of the West (last year). When we went back to aluminum, it didn't feel right."
Miller stole 11 bases, and Cirelli believes that number will go up as his protege learns the game even more. Miller's speed and hustle in the Southwest Regional keyed a 26-12 win over Western Oklahoma in the semifinals.
With two outs in the first inning, Miller hit a groundball to the shortstop, who bobbled the ball, allowing Miller, who never stopped hustling to reach first safely. Mesa went on to score 10 unearned runs en route to the big victory.
Cirelli spoke like a proud papa when he recalled that play. A small thing like that could have made the difference between a win or a loss, and Cirelli knows that.
He knows that hustle is one thing Miller has always brought to the table, and he hopes that his young outfielder continues to deliver.
Darrell Moody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (775) 881-1214
Miller By The Numbers
AB - 221
Runs - 59
Hits - 78
2B - 18
3B - 7
HR - 5
RBI - 40
AVE - .353