Some argue of generational coaches or of once-in-a-generation players, but few can lay claim to literal generations of impact and influence on a single program.
Although he has spent the majority of his 39-year coaching career in the shade of dugout, there were generations of ballplayers on hand to help shine the spotlight on Jim Miller before he tossed the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday evening at Paul Richards Park in Waxahachie.
"I've played a lot of catch in my lifetime, but that was the most nervous I have ever been catching a baseball," said Adam Miller, a first-year Indian assistant baseball coach and son of the honoree. Adam also presented his father with a framed replica of the infamous 16-pentad-colored-squared pitch chart that has befuddled opposing sign stealers for over three decades just before the old man was allowed one more toss from the bump he has spent countless coaching kids to master.
After spending his first six years outside of the green and white, Miller has seen fathers, brothers, sons, nephews and even daughters, aunts and sisters of Waxahachie alumni pass through his dugouts. He has helped win hundreds of baseball games, took a five-year foray on the softball diamond and twice felt the bitter taste of defeat in Round Rock.
In his 33 years donning Waxahachie green, Miller has spent all but four as an assistant baseball, softball or football coach. Miller served as the Indian skipper in 2002-03, an interim head coach after Joni Boyd went on maternity leave from the Lady Indian softball program in 2007 and then as the head softball coach in 2008.
Even in the years helping lead the Lady Indian softball program, Miller would still find his way back to Richards Park to help when he could — like in 2008 when he fine-tuned the pitching staff during a run at a 4A state baseball title.
Through all of his successes and failures, one thing is certain: Miller has remained genuine. There is little doubt of the respect he has for his coaching partners, friends, family, players and the game — or the respect each shows to him.
It is because of that approach to life and the game that Adam credits to his following of his father’s footsteps.
“It is just one of those deals where I have known what I have wanted to do for a real long time and it is because of that man right there. He has always been an inspiration to me and he helped me know what field I wanted to go into,” Adam said. “I grew up at this ballpark being with him every day as a kid so getting to be here with him at the end of it is a blessing.
“He has been doing this a long time and doing this the right way a long time. He is a great man. I’m just proud. He is my father, and I love him, but it is just one of those deals that he is so respected, and everyone else loves him, too.”
During his first season as a Waxahachie Indian in 1985, Miller explained, for those with little knowledge of the pre-UIL setup, that the district was split into a north and south zone. The two champions of each zone then met for a one-game playoff to determine the one district representative in the postseason tournament.
Since his first season in a Waxahachie dugout, the Indian baseball program has 28 playoff appearances, three trips to the state tournament (1988, 99, 08) and two appearances in the state title game (1988 and 2008). Six times the Tribe has reached the area finals (1990, 92, 09, 14, 15, 16), while twice reaching the regional finals (1989, 91) and five times the regional semi-finals (1997, 98, 01, 11, 12).
After quickly recovering from a rare speechless moment, the generally comedic Miller replied, “I’ve never even really thought about all of that” as he looked toward the right-field foul pole while hanging his left arm off of the padded railing in the Indian dugout along the first base line.
“I just…I told coach Wood when he brought me back on to baseball from softball that I had one goal and that was to go down to Austin and get that gold hung around my neck. That is the only one that has eluded me,” Miller said. “I’ve had two in football and should have had two more, had a chance for five in baseball but got bronze twice and silver three times, but that one has eluded me.
“I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a lot of playoffs, but it doesn’t really, I mean, the bigger the game, the more pumped I get. I just want these kids to just take it all in. We tell these kids all the time to enjoy it because pretty soon it is all going to be over with. Nothing is ever the same. Your friends change, your whole circle of friends changes and it is as much a learning experience as it is an athletic experience.”
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Over three decades of coaching at one school, it is inevitable that at some point a father and son will pass through the same locker.
In 2017 alone, Miller is coaching the offspring of former players Larry David (Levi), Eloy Ortiz (Damian) and Shane Leath (Jackson).
According to Miller, time began speeding up around the arrival of Joe Volentine, a former pupil, to the Waxahachie coaching circle. A few years later, Volentine’s son, Justin, entered the Indian football program and Miller said he then realized just how quickly the years were passing by.
"There have been so many kids, and so many have been a big part of baseball here and still are. I just feel blessed to have been here for so long and to be a part of it,” Miller said. “People ask me how or why I’ve stayed here so long and, well, number one you have to like the people you are working with, which I do. Then, Waxahachie has a chance to win every year in every sport. That is one of the main reasons I stayed. Every place has its share of problems and I had my share at four different schools before I came here and I never thought I would be here that long. I didn’t think I would be here three years much less 33 years, but it has been a great experience in a good community. It’s just been fun.”
Just as one of the infamous trains that help comprise the mystique of Richards Park rolled by on the nearby tracks, Miller then reflected on the last year spent with Adam on the ball field.
“It is one of those things that is pretty special. I was hoping they would hire him, I knew we had a spot and that there was a chance, and I wanted that so bad,” said Miller as the train rolled on behind the third base dugout. “I got to coach him and that was quite an experience in itself. I told Tracy [Wood] when his son was playing that it is the hardest thing you will ever have to do because you want it so bad for them. You live and die on every pitch that they are involved in — and he (Adam) was a catcher. During the time he played, I felt so privileged to be able to just stand out there on the chalk line with him during the National Anthem and I know most dads would feel the same way. To be a part of high school athletics and go through that with a kid, I don’t forget that. It is very special for us and I don’t take that lightly at all. To be able to stand out here as a coach, too, and do that again with him, that brings back a lot of memories. A lot of good memories.”
DOWN TO THE FINAL OUT
If you were to ask Adam or Waxahachie head baseball coach Tracy Wood if Miller will actually follow through with the retirement, neither will have a straight answer. They will, however, agree that if this is the end then it is one that both are thankful to have tagged along on.
“I don’t even know if he knows if he is actually going to retire. It just depends on what day it is. Right now, yes. But when that last game ends, it could be a different story. We will have to see how it is at the end of the season,” Adam said. “He is definitely going to play some golf this summer. He says he is done, but I know how much he loves the game and loves these kids, so it’s going to be tough for him to walk away.”
Wood has shared the dugout with Miller since arriving in Waxahachie from Corsicana 10 years ago and said the two, while they might “bark” at each other from time to time, have grown to become close friends off the field.
“As we speak, I am trying to talk him out of this deal. To say he is irreplaceable is an understatement and anyone would say that and it’s not just because of his work with the catchers and pitchers. It is all of it. We are not just coaching partners, but we are friends,” Wood said. “It is fun when you get to coach with someone who is your friend. Sometimes we bark at each other, but there is a respect there. We are on the same train going down the same tracks and we understand what the goal is. He is well respected, for sure. If he does retire and he does go, it is going to be tough, for sure.
“I really think he is scared to death to retire. I will be in the same boat when it’s my time to retire. When it’s time, it’ll scare you because your whole life as you know it, even just the little bitty things like leaving the school and it being automatic [to come to the ballpark], when those little things start changing, it’ll scare you. And I don’t blame him because I will be the same way when it comes time for me to do the same thing.”
As the two Millers and Wood sat in the clubhouse already mentally preparing for Friday and waiting on assistant coach Brad Davis to return with a scouting report from a potential bi-district matchup, legendary Indian skipper Mike Turner snuck in to congratulate the Miller on a career well done. Shortly after, Wood echoed those words for a man that many have had the privilege to call “coach.”
“What do you say? That guy is invaluable. Invaluable,” added Wood as he walked through the front gates at Richards Park after his team’s 21st win of the season. “History and the history of Waxahachie baseball, that is a big deal to me. I want those younger guys to see that tradition is big and Jim has been a huge part of it. Who has coached more baseball games here than that guy? Who has coached more baseball games in a lot of places than that guy? Whether he was the head coach or assistant or whatever, he has been a fantastic coach and a fantastic friend.”
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith