Corky Miller

A masked Corky Miller, standing in the middle of two umpires, is managing the Joliet Slammers of the Independent League.

It’s been two and a half decades since Corky Miller, a 23rd round draft pick by the California Angels, last slung the catcher’s gear on for Yucaipa High School.

Back in 1993 and 1994, Miller had the best view of anyone when the Thunderbirds won back-to-back CIF Division IV championships - 5-3 over Riverside Norte Vista and 4-3 over San Marino.

Best view, that is, because he was catching.

That was then.

This is now: The 11-season MLB veteran, Miller was recently tabbed to manage the Joliet (Ill.) Slammers, an independent team out of the Frontier League.

“It’s four teams out of the Joliet Slammers’ stadium just working,” said Miller, “for four or five days.”

Games began last month.

The crowds, he said, will be 10 percent of Joliet’s 8,000-seating capacity - 800 people, tops.

“It’s for people that don’t want to drive into the city to watch the White Sox or the Cubs.”

That city, Chicago, is where Miller calls home - wife Jenny, plus two sons, ages 15 and 12.

Miller was freed up from his regular job - roving catching instructor with the Cincinnati Reds - when the 2020 minor league season was canceled.

Between ages 25 and 37, an MLB career back-up catcher - .193, 11 HRs, 216 MLB games - showed up to play in Cincinnati, very briefly in Boston, along with Minnesota, Atlanta and Chicago White Sox. Seattle cut him at the end of spring training, 2006.

Fast-forward to 2020. Miller, who’s now 44, has kept up his connection to the sport. Think of this: Miller was 18 when he was drafted, showing up instead at Nevada-Reno for a short collegiate career.

Miller’s entry into professional baseball came when Cincinnati signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1998. He turned his catching skills into a lengthy pro career.

“That’s 19 years with the Reds,” he said, referring to both his MLB experience and minor league days, plus coaching since 2015.

His main job as Reds’ roving catching instructor - “somewhere between 16 and 20 guys” - takes on players in the major leagues down to Cincinnati’s Dominican Academy.

That started when Cincinnati drafted Tyler Stephenson in the 2015 first round.

“To be honest, I was at home (in Chicago),” said Miller. “They told me after I was finished playing to be with my family. When they drafted Tyler, they sent me out to talk to him. I just fell into the role.”

The following season, he was asked to be the Reds’ full-time catching instructor.

“(Catching) is one of my strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “I see a lot of stuff. Try to help other people. Sometimes, it clutters my mind.”

Imagine, being teammates with the likes of Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey, Jr. in Cincinnati, Justin Morneau while backing up MVP Joe Mauer in Minnesota, showing up to catch one game in Boston (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Curt Schilling teammates) before landing in Atlanta for two seasons alongside Chipper Jones and Hall of Famer John Smoltz.

His managers along the way included Terry Francona, Bobby Cox, Dusty Baker and Ozzie Guillen. “Ron Gardenhire was with the Twins.”

Ask Miller about his highlights and he rattles them off quickly.

“Twenty-two years in pro ball,” he says.

“Getting to the big leagues in 2001.

“Watching Chipper Jones hit his 400th home run.

“Going to the playoffs with the Reds (in 2010).

“Playing with Ken Griffey, Jr. Playing with Jim Thome.”

It was a long way from those Yucaipa Little League days when his dad, Greg Miller, put Corky behind the plate to catch.

“He was my Little League manager. Catching just sort of came around. In high school, I tried to play outfield and second base.”

Longtime coach Jeff Stout came up to him and said, “You catch, right?”

Those early days have paid off in a big way over a quarter-century later.

“I wouldn’t be the person I’d be today if it weren’t for Yucaipa’s Little League system, if not for Jeff.

“All this,” said Miller, referring to his dual role as Joliet manager and Reds’ catching instructor, “is maybe to try and get back to the big leagues as a coach.”

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