By Jeff Jones
Twitter – @jmjones
JUPITER — Sporting legend holds that Michael Jordan insisted on wearing the same pair of blue North Carolina Tarheels basketball shorts underneath his uniform for every game of his NBA career.
Andrew Miller may not be Michael Jordan, but he has the same alma mater and a similar fashion sense. Standing at his locker in the Cardinals complex in Jupiter on Wednesday afternoon, he wore a white pair of shorts that would’ve been in vogue during the years he was on campus in Chapel Hill. They are, apparently, a mainstay.
“Get used to ’em, I guess,” the lefty said with a shrug.
Miller played for UNC from 2004 to 2006, and he graduated with the school record for strikeouts in both a single season and a career. He left college after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the summer of 2006 and, after a brief stop in Class-A, made his major league debut in the bullpen that August.
Miller wasn’t effective enough in that season to earn a spot on Detroit’s postseason roster. As a result, he watched from the sidelines as the Tigers advanced to the 2006 World Series, only to find themselves slipping all over the Busch Stadium grass as the Cardinals won their tenth world championship. He would begin 2007 in the minor leagues before making his Major League starting debut that May.
It was against the Cardinals.
Asked to recall that start from his place in the other dugout, Adam Wainwright offered this estimate: “If I’m not mistaken he threw about 100 pitches in about four innings, right?”
Wainwright, it turns out, was slightly mistaken. Miller threw 94 pitches. He lasted six innings. He also didn’t allow a run in a 14-4 romp of a Detroit victory.
Victories are easier to remember than defeats. Still, Detroit’s high ceiling prospect was someone who caught Wainwright’s eye.
“He had amazing stuff and it was kind of wild and he hadn’t honed it yet,” Wainwright said. “That’s what happens a lot of times when young guys come up and they just haven’t honed their stuff yet. But when you have stuff like he does and you’re an athlete like he is, then you figure it out.”
Miller said that he heard positive things about Cardinals manager Mike Shildt before Shildt even took over last season, and now that he’s getting to know him better, he’s impressed by the energy he’s bringing to camp. “It seems like communication and the general attitude around here is great, and that’s what you want to be a part of,” Miller said.
Shildt and Miller also have mutual acquaintances in North Carolina that gave them, according to the pitcher, “something in common.” As he discussed his first official day in uniform, he cautioned against reading too much into what spring performance looks like.
“I’ve had spring trainings that have gone almost flawlessly and had a rough start to the season,” Miller said. “I’ve had spring trainings that have been a mess and gotten off to a great start. It’s a process. There’s a reason we have it and I’m here to take advantage of it.”
A big part of that spring work will be working on communication with his new teammates and learning to work with Yadier Molina behind the plate. He laughed as he expressed relief that his new teammates will have their names conveniently sewn to their backs. The reaction from people he already knew was every bit as encouraging.
“I haven’t heard a bad thing,” Miller conceded. “When I signed over here, the number of texts I got telling me how great of a baseball town it was and how great it is to throw to Yadi, I don’t think I could count them.”
Miller’s known for his use of his slider, which he said has been a pitch that has remained relatively consistent even as far back as high school. Asked to illuminate some things that keep him busy off the field, he opted for the breaking ball again and said only, “I’m a pretty boring guy. There’s not a whole lot to me. Just try to lay low and be known for my baseball.”
It may fall to his teammates, then, to bring out his different sides. Wainwright, a fiercely proud native of the state of Georgia, seemed incredulous at the idea that there would be a cross-state rivalry with the North Carolina alum. After complimenting their colors (he likes baby blue) and their food (ever a barbecue aficionado, he complimented Carolina-style), Wainwright clearly called for peace.
“I got nothing against North Carolina,” Wainwright said. “North Carolina is basically my people down there. Southeast.”
Wainwright went on to joke that it wouldn’t be bad unless Miller was a supporter of the University of Florida, which he is not. He just happens to have been born in the city where the university is located.
The shorts, thankfully, will be a convenient diversion.