ELIZABETHTON — Thomas Miller got a taste of baseball as a six-year-old, and his whetted appetite carried his hunger to the college ranks.
“My parents drove me all across the Southeast,” said Miller, the Elizabethton senior catcher who signed a Division I scholarship this week with Middle Tennessee State. “I’ve been playing in tournaments since I was six years old. Their love of the game drove my love of the game. They have supported me.”
Miller is enjoying a solid senior season for the Cyclones, not just as a catcher but also as a hitter and a relief pitcher. He’s batting .368 with 13 RBIs, and has built a record of 3-1 with four saves and 13 strikeouts in 122â„3 innings on the mound.
The surging Cyclones (15-8 overall) have won nine straight since returning from a week of games in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“The difference in this team is the camaraderie,” said Miller. “Nobody tries to do too much, and there is no selfishness. We just play as a team.”
Miller has been an integral part of the success, and one reason is because of how he limits other teams’ aggressiveness on the basepaths.
“Most teams that know him don’t try, said Elizabethton head coach Joe Nix. “It frustrates him sometimes because he wants them to run.”
Leadership is another strength. Nix said he saw it in Miller even as a freshman.
“We were three games into the season when he took over at catcher,” said Nix. “He jumped all over a senior — in a good way, the way you would want a catcher to do it. Right then we knew we had something. He took it and ran with it.”
When Miller is behind the plate, he studies the hitters. That knowledge helps him as a pitcher, said Nix.
“As a catcher, he knows the spots he wants the pitcher to hit and he takes that to the mound,” said Nix. “He knows the batters’ weaknesses.”
Good performances over the last three seasons helped Miller get noticed by college coaches. But it wasn’t until last summer when MTSU got in the mix. Miller went to a camp in Murfreesboro, and things went well.
“They offered me a spot,” said Miller. “The main thing that sold me were the facilities and the campus. The coaching staff welcomed me, and everything seemed to fit.”
In a way, Miller will be returning home. He lived in Franklin for seven years before moving to Elizabethton in middle school.
Miller said he has dreamed of playing college ball since he was little, and Division I makes it even better.
“It is an honor to play at that level,” said Miller. “If my coaches hadn’t given me the opportunity to get playing time and develop a leadership role, I don’t think I would have been ready for Division I.”
Miller also had a good high school football career as a linebacker for the Cyclones. He helped them reach the Class 3A state semifinals this past season.
“I always liked the toughness of the game,” said Miller.
Toughness will factor into getting ready for MTSU.
“I will have to add a little weight,” he said. “But the way I’ve gained weight working out, I don’t think I will have a problem.
“The main thing I need to do is speed up my bat. Hitting at the college level is just as important as defense. I have to adjust quickly, but I think the faster pitching will make it easier. It’s just timing and getting the ball to the bat, and the bat will do the rest.”
Aside from playing baseball in college, Miller said he wants to pursue a degree in concrete industry management.
“I like to build stuff,” said Miller, who carries a GPA of 3.7 and scored a 26 on the ACT. “I like to do things hands-on.”
Included in that mix was mission work, which Miller credited with helping him mature.
“We went to Arkansas and built a roof for a house,” said Miller. “And in New York City we helped out in the community. It was really fun and helped me grow up.”