Every year, a number of Cedar Rapids Kernels players and coaches spend one of their off-days sweating on a golf course with a bunch of people willing to shell out a couple dollars (actually a bit more) for the pleasure of sharing their company as they knock a little white ball about 6,000 yards around a local golf course to benefit the organization’s childrens’ reading program.
Today was such a day.
I was fortunate enough to get to be part of a fivesome that included Kernels relief pitcher Max Cordy.
Cordy is a 23-year-old righthander drafted by the Twins out of UC-Davis a year ago, made just three appearances at E’Town this year before being promoted to Cedar Rapids. He has a 2.00 in eight appearances for Cedar Rapids and is striking out about one batter per inning since arriving in Cedar Rapids.
Our group didn’t come close to winning anything in the 5-man best-shot competition, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time, despite enduring some heat (and even more humidity) as we made our way around Hunter’s Ridge Golf Course.
Kernels infielder Sean Miller was playing with the group ahead of us on the course and, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t even hit a decent shot into Miller’s group to make them nervous.
The golf outing is just one of several ways Twins minor leaguers participate in community relations activities in the Cedar Rapids area during the season.
I’d like to tell you everything Max and I talked about during our 4+ hours together, but what’s said on the golf course stays on the golf course. Plus, I might have had a beer or two during the round, so I probably wouldn’t relate anything we talked about accurately anyway.
If you go to the web site of the baseball program at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, you’ll find a link listing all of the Pacer ballplayers who are playing professional baseball.
Well, not quite all of them.
Cedar Rapids Kernels infielder Sean Miller spent three years in a Pacers uniform and he’s now played for two minor league teams, but South Carolina-Aiken’s webmaster hasn’t updated the list since last September and Miller just wrapped up his college career this past spring.
Miller, the first of the Minnesota Twins’ 2015 draft class to suit up for the Kernels this season (Chris Paul joined Cedar Rapids later), was a “young junior,” to use Kernels manager Jake Mauer’s words. He was just 20 years old throughout his junior year of college and won’t turn 21 until after the current season ends.
That may have been one factor that the Twins found attractive about Miller, whom they selected in the 10th round of the 2015 draft. The Twins sent the middle infielder to their Appalachian League affiliate in Elizabethton, Tennessee, just about a four hour drive north of his college campus in Aiken, immediately after signing him to a contract that included a reported $125,000 bonus.
It was a short stay for Miller in Tennessee. On July 11, he was promoted to the Kernels.
The quick promotion caught Miller a bit by surprise.
“Actually, it did. Kind of a lot,” Miller admitted. “Because I was only in Etown for two or three weeks, I guess. I played in 12 or 13 games (it was officially 11 games). So it was definitely surprising, but it was really exciting.
“I was playing good defense there and I was hitting okay. I was hitting balls hard but I didn’t have a great average or numbers, like that.”
Short as it was, Miller said he enjoyed getting his first taste of professional ball in Elizabethton.
“It was exactly what I was expecting. It was awesome to get a chance to play and be on your own and just get the whole experience of it.”
In truth, Miller was hitting just .209 in Elizabethton when he was promoted to Cedar Rapids. But his numbers since joining the Kernels have been much more encouraging. He’s not showing a lot of power, but he carried a .303 batting average with the Kernels through this past weekend.
“Sean’s put the ball in play and gives us a little bit of speed that, obviously with (Tanner) English gone, we’ve been lacking a little bit,” Mauer said of Miller.
Miller played high school ball in Maryland for his father, Steve Miller, who had his own five-year minor league career after being the 13th round pick of the San Francisco Giants in the 1983 June Amateur Draft.
Having a dad with that kind of background comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
“It’s always hard with him being your dad,” Miller conceded. “You don’t want to listen to him, but you have to because you know he’s been there. He’s been through the same stuff you’re going through.
“It’s definitely (a battle), always arguing about something, but you’ve just got to realize that he knows more than you do.”
The elder Miller has made two trips to see his son in his first minor league season, one to Tennessee and the other to Cedar Rapids.
The Kernels infielder said his dad’s advice has remained on the practical side from the beginning.
“He always kind of told me it’s not as glamorous as everyone makes it out to be. It’s more of a job than a game now. And it’s kind of how he described it. He was pretty right on it.”
Miller is finding that to be true as he nears the end of a year that began in the Peach Belt Conference and is concluding in the Class A Midwest League. He’s found there’s a pretty significant difference in the quality of the pitchers he’s now facing.
“It’s definitely a lot better, more consistent” Miller acknowledged. “Night in, night out, you face guys that are definitely a lot better. Position players, too. A lot of the outfielders, if they get a chance, they’re going to run it down and catch it. They’re not going to allow a hit there. It takes some getting used to.”
As you’d expect, Miller is happy with the success he’s had thus far with the Kernels.
“Definitely,” he confirmed. “I’m just trying to come in every day and have fun and just play ball.”
So far, Miller has found the biggest challenge in pro ball to be just maintaining an even keel over the course of a long season.
“I think getting too high, sometimes you have a good game and you’re kind of up here,” Miller said, lifting his hand toward the top of his head. “And you come up the next night and go 0 for 4 or something like that. I mean it sucks, but you’ve got to find a happy medium there and kind of stay consistent with your attitude. Can’t get too excited when you have a good game and can’t get too upset about a bad game.”
His manager concurs, but feels the Miller is off to a good start.
“He’s handled himself good,” Mauer added, of Miller. “He needs to learn what it takes to play every day and maintain his strength. It’s going to be a big offseason for him to get bigger and stronger and continue to improve his speed, but he’s been very good for us.
“He’s been doing a pretty nice job in the middle of the infield, mostly just shortstop is all that he’s played. He’s learning how to play second and handled himself pretty good there.”
Off the field, you are likely to find Miller on a golf course.
“I like to play golf,” he said. “I haven’t really got a chance to play too much, lately, but hopefully I’ll get a chance in the offseason.”
Miller said he’ll make South Carolina his primary home once the season ends.
“I’ll be back and forth between Maryland and South Carolina, but I just kind of wanted to get started and be on my own a little bit.”