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Miller’s Career a Cornerstone for Yellowjacket Baseball
Brody Miller is a two-time GNAC Player of the Year.
Brody Miller is a two-time GNAC Player of the Year.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

By Evan O'Kelly, MSUB Sports Information

BILLINGS, Mont. – When Rob Bishop was hired as the head baseball coach at Montana State University Billings on August 20, 2010, he had a mighty task in front of him. The 10-year coaching veteran at Miles Community College in Miles City, Mont., carried with him a record of 414-169, proof of the winning tradition he had established as a college baseball coach.
 
The Yellowjacket program he inherited had won just 11 of 46 games during the 2010 season, and had not had a winning season since being reintroduced to the university beginning in 2006.
 
Bishop knew that he needed a core recruiting class and cornerstone players that he could build a program around from the ground up.
 
In his final year at Miles City, a 16-year-old playing in the state tournament caught Bishop's eye and immediately moved to the front of his short list for the type of player he was looking for.
 
It was Brody Miller, the second baseman for the Missoula Mavericks who stood out most to Bishop. The lightning-quick bat speed and surprising power for a high-schooler who stood just 5-foot-8 is what impressed Bishop the most, as he saw the potential for Miller to become a fixture in MSUB's lineup for years to come.
 
Making contact with Miller, it was Bishop's guarantee that he could start every game for four seasons and be a building block for the program that ultimately sold MSUB to Miller.
 
In his first season, Bishop led the Yellowjackets to 18 wins in 2011, a step in the right direction as he waited for the arrival of Miller and his first recruiting class for the 2012 season.

He knew Miller had a chance to be an all-Great Northwest Athletic Conference player by his sophomore season, and that somewhere on the horizon was a conference championship.
 
What Bishop could not predict was that Miller would bat north of .350, hit 26 home runs in his career and record the third-highest hit total in GNAC history.

That he would be named the GNAC Player of the Year as a junior and become the first All-American in MSUB history.

That he would save his greatest season for his senior year, during which he has been named the GNAC Player of the Year again and is leading the league in home runs (14) and RBIs (59).

That he would leap on top of a dogpile behind the pitcher's mound at Saint Martin's as the Yellowjackets won the GNAC regular season title and earned hosting rights for the conference championships.
 
That he would go down as the greatest player in MSUB history and one of the two or three best to ever set foot on a GNAC baseball diamond.
 
NOT IN THE HOUSE
 
"I was sitting in my chair, and Brod was pitching to me from across the living room," Bill Miller said with a chuckle as he recalled the earliest games of catch between him and his son he could remember. "His mother gave us a lecture about playing in the house. He and I got into a little bit of trouble that day."
 
It may have been the last time Miller and his father played ball together in the house, but from the early throws Bill received from his son he could tell there was something special about Brody.

Sporting a Ken Griffey Jr. model baseball glove, Brody played on his father's Mount Sentinel South Side Little League team which twice advanced to regional tournaments. It was Bill's rule that everybody on the team had to play every position on the field, as Brody and his teammates all had the chance to test their skills all over the diamond.
 
"Brody was always very coachable, and was always committed to the game," Bill said. "He was always very confident, and he had that competitive edge spirit at a young age."
 
In 2006, Miller's Little League team met a squad from Oregon in the regional tournament at San Bernardino, Calif. Miller ended a game by being tagged out at home plate by a young Trevor Nix, who went on to lead Murrayhill to the Little League World Series.
 
As Miller made the transition from the 60-foot base paths and 200-foot fences onto the 90-foot diamond as a 13-year-old, his biggest progression as a player was still in front of him.
 
CRAFTING THE PERFECT SWING

It didn't take long for Miller to make an impression at the American Legion level, as he suited up for the Missoula Mavericks early as an eighth grader. Towards the end of his first season, he was promoted from the Single A team to the Double A squad, where he first joined head coach Brent Hathaway.
 
"I can still remember in his first at bat he flied out to the warning track probably 375-380 feet away," Hathaway said. "I told him, 'we play in big parks here, you'll have to learn how to hit line drives because you're not going to be hitting a lot of balls out.' Now he owns our program's home runs record. You couldn't tell him that he couldn't do something, because that motivated him to do it more."
 
Every Sunday Miller and his father would make the three-hour drive from Missoula to Three Forks, Mont., seeking the indoor batting cage inside a warehouse next to the legion field. It was there that Miller worked with Duwayne Scott, perfecting every aspect of a swing that would ultimately defy Hathaway's early skepticism.
 
"I've had lots of great hitting coaches, but Duwayne really simplified things for me," Miller said. "He was so easy to work with, and I still call him sometimes and just describe what I'm feeling in my swing over the phone to him. He knows my swing really well and it's easy to fix things."
 
Miller has always hit with a wood bat, electing only to switch to metal for games. A pair of lines that Bill taped onto a Louisville Slugger served as Brody's guide to learning the sweet spot. "When I used to hit in batting practice I had to hit every ball between those lines," said Miller.
 
By the time he reached his final season of legion ball, not only had Miller proven Hathaway wrong, but he had set career records in many offensive categories including home runs with 40. "Brody rolled out of bed knowing how to hit, and he has worked awfully hard at perfecting it," Hathaway said. "His father has been a big influence in terms of his growth as a baseball player."
 
CAREER FOR THE AGES
 
"I've seen a lot of players where the word 'potential' pops up. All that means is that they haven't done it yet. Brody had that potential, but what has pushed him ahead of a lot of other players is the drive that he has to be special. I don't know if you could predict that he would do the things he's done, but now that he's done it, it doesn't surprise me." – Brent Hathaway on the career of Brody Miller.
 
5813Having played with older kids his entire life, Miller felt comfortable from the start when he first suited up for the Yellowjackets as a freshman in 2012. He was used to starting and playing a key role, but the transition to the college game was difficult even for the young star that Miller had developed into.
 
Over his first eight games, Miller batted .143 and had more strikeouts than hits. The sluggish start did not discourage him or Bishop, as the new Yellowjacket skipper wisely stuck with Miller as he remembered his promise that he would start every game he played.
 
Beginning with a 4-for-5 breakout against Saint Martin's, Miller batted .317 the rest of the season as he started all 46 games for MSUB.
 
There was no hangover for Miller as a sophomore, as he led the team in hitting at .350 and upped his power numbers with four home runs, nine doubles and 41 RBIs. MSUB had back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in program history, and Miller was tabbed as a second-team all-GNAC pick.
 
"I knew he was ready to hit, and it was just a matter of how he would respond to being a college student and handling adversity," Bishop said. "He understood that we would be fighting an uphill battle for the first couple of years and that we had a long way to go. He was bought in the whole way and understood the big picture. We were basically building our program from the bottom up, and it has paid off."
 
As Bishop watched the walls of his program develop through Miller and other local recruits like Brady Muller and Colter Sternhagen, it was in 2014 when it became clear that MSUB's second baseman was a cut above the rest.
 
Finishing the year batting .392, Miller homered six times, added 16 doubles and drove in 34 while getting on base at an incredible clip of .498. He was selected as the GNAC Player of the Year, and became the first All-American in MSUB baseball history as he was a third-team National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association pick and an honorable mention Daktronics selection.
 
While the awards were well-deserved and unprecedented for the 'Jackets, Miller knew things still had to get better. MSUB missed out on the GNAC Championships by one game, finishing the conference season in fourth place.

"Coming here and struggling was frustrating," Miller said after carrying a 66-11 record from his senior year into his collegiate career. "I knew I had to trust in Coach Bishop and remember that every year is new and that we would get better and better. I think the program is on the right track now."
 
Playing with the title of GNAC Player of the Year and All-American on his back has not slowed Miller down through his senior campaign, as he is having the finest season of his career. Miller leads the GNAC in home runs (14) and RBIs (59), and is batting .360 with 68 hits and 18 doubles. He was unanimously picked by the conference's coaches as the Player of the Year, becoming the second in conference history to win the honor twice.
 
He has moved into the top-5 in almost every major GNAC career category. Entering the GNAC Championships, Miller is the alltime leader in walks (112), ranks No. 2 in assists (484), total bases (382) and starts (191), No. 3 in hits (253), home runs (26) and RBIs (165), No. 5 in doubles (49), at bats (702), and games played (191), and No. 7 in runs scored (139).
 
"Coming in I felt like Brody had the talent to be a first-team guy, but anything beyond that was up to him," Bishop said. "What has come late is the power, and that has made a difference. It is hard to project that a kid who weighed 165 pounds in high school would hit 26 home runs in his career and 18 doubles this season alone."
 
"His mother, sister, and myself are just so proud of him," Bill said when asked how he reacted to being told his son is the greatest player in school history and one of the best-ever in the GNAC. "He has gone above and beyond any expectation I could have ever had from raising a son. He is just a top notch kid in my book."
 
In Miller's mind, the confidence to produce at an unprecedented clip has always been there. Never did it show more than when he recorded arguably the greatest four-game series in GNAC history, during which he homered four times, hit two grand slams, and drove in 14 runs in a 3-1 series win over Central Washington earlier this season.
 
"I haven't really thought about it that much," Miller said regarding his historic career. "The main reason why is that we still have games left to play. I am focused on helping our team win the tournament this weekend. Maybe it will all sink in after that, but right now all I am thinking about is winning this weekend."
 
TRANSFORMING A PROGRAM5814
 
When Bishop leads his Yellowjackets onto the field at Dehler Park Thursday, he will do so with the affirmation that the pieces he has put in place have begun a new mentality and tradition within MSUB baseball and MSUB athletics.
 
As a coach, understanding that the process of building a winning program was going to take time was an easy concept to grasp. To find players who adopt that mindset as easily as Miller has is another story. He will make his 192nd career start on Thursday, the second-most in conference history as he fulfills the proposal that Bishop offered to him four years ago.
 
"Brody has done two big things," Bishop said. "He has made the culture for our hitters one such that they take extra hitting every day. We have 15 hitters and it is optional, but there are never 12 or 13 guys there. There are 15.
 
"Secondly, winning as a team is more important to Brody than anything else," Bishop continued. "If he is 0-for-4 and we win, you won't see him sulking in the dugout. He wants to win first, and play well second."
 
When Miller and the 'Jackets stormed into a dogpile at Saint Martin's last week, Miller finally had the championship that he had been working towards since debuting for MSUB in 2012. "My goal has been to win a championship the whole time," Miller said. "It has been great coming here and buying into what Coach has said and finally ending up with a championship this season. I hope that this program keeps going up and up after I leave."
 
FINDING BASEBALLS
 
Bill still remembers Brody's first home run, which came during his Little League days as a 9-year-old. With his natural instinct as a parent guiding him, he quickly tracked down the baseball and took it home as a souvenir. It was the start to what has become an immaculate treasure hunt, as Bill has kept almost every home run ball his son has ever hit.
 
"I thought I would have 10 to 20 balls or so, and I started putting them into these plastic display cubes," Bill said regarding Brody's home runs. "Now I think I have more than 10 dozen of them, and I don't know what I'm going to do with them all."
 
When considering his next step after college, Miller has 10 dozen reasons to have an opportunity to be drafted in Major League Baseball's June amateur player draft. It is a career path Miller has discussed non-stop with his father, and all he is hoping for is an opportunity to showcase his talents.
 
"All I'm hoping for is a chance to prove myself," Miller said. "That's pretty much what I've had to do whenever I have started somewhere new, whether it was Little League, legion, or MSUB. I have been fortunate enough to have Coach Hathaway and Coach Bishop give me a chance, and all I want is an opportunity at the next level."
 
When Bill makes the five-hour drive from Missoula to Billings Thursday morning to watch his son do what he does best one final time, he will park his white pickup truck in his normal spot beyond the right-field wall in the parking lot at Dehler Park.
 
"I always park my truck to the left of the scoreboard, and Brody has always said, 'hey I might hit it!" said Bill, whose son wears No. 7 in honor of his own playing days in which his teammates simply called him, 'seven'. "I respond with, 'go ahead, I will get it fixed!'"
 
It is one target Miller hasn't hit to this point in his career, but in his final collegiate games this weekend, perhaps he will make his father's hunt for his final home run ball an easy one and put it right in the bed of his truck.5815

Bill Miller poses with his son Brody's home run balls in the background.

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