March 30, 2005

Miller Seeks Ivy Title in Final Campaign for Red

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Tall, stoic, and with a frame seemingly chipped from blocks of granite, senior shortstop Matt Miller casts an imposing shadow on the baseball diamond. Like Atlas leading the Titans into battle or Zeus raining down thunder on the wicked, Miller’s strength and leadership abilities are rivaled only in the mythological heroes of the ancient past. However, unlike the pompous and arrogant gods of Greek myths, Miller exudes an uncommon blend of confidence, calm and humility. And the only thing otherworldly about this Gaithersburg, Md., native is his performance on the field.

Miller’s rock-like demeanor — not to mention unparalleled offensive and defensive statistics — anchors a Cornell baseball team on the verge of its most successful season in recent memory. Although the Red boasts just a 4-7 overall record after a tumultuous spring break, the squad has displayed consistent flashes of brilliance all over the field — led by Miller’s supernatural .375 batting average and eight runs scored in 11 contests. As one of Cornell’s three captains, Miller quietly embodies all the qualities necessary for an ancient hero — including an insatiable thirst for victory.

“Our number one goal is the Ivy championship,” Miller said. “It is the greatest achievement. I would love nothing more than to come back next year and pick up my ring.”

Like any mythological warrior, Miller’s quest for the supreme prize has been long and arduous — yet his destiny has always been clear. As a youth, he showed a natural affinity for the game, tossing around baseballs at home while still learning to walk. From the age of five and onward, Miller devoted himself to his budding passion each summer in the form of camps, little league teams and specialized batting practice.

By high school, Miller had established himself as one of the premier athletic talents in the greater Washington, D.C., area. A three-year starter at shortstop for Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, he twice was awarded all-league honors. Miller’s booming bat and effective defensive style prompted scouting interest from Princeton, Fordham and Fairfield. Ultimately, however, it was the magic of Ithacan atmosphere that drew the prodigy away from home.

“It is kind of corny, but having [Hoy Field] right in the center of campus was a huge thing for me,” Miller said. “It’s a pretty ridiculous location for a field — the environment, the buildings, to have people always walking by … it’s very nice.”

Head coach Tom Ford immediately recognized Miller’s potential, inserting him in the starting lineup throughout his rookie season. By the time Miller was a sophomore — and the Red was threatening Princeton for the Gehrig Division title — the burgeoning star had developed a sense for the game equaled by few of his Ivy peers. As the only member of the Red to start all 37 games, Miller belted a home run and collected 16 RBI.

“It was really a statement of trust from my coaches to start at shortstop as a rising sophomore,” Miller said. “The coaches gave me a chance to prove myself on the field.”

However, no heroic journey completely escapes adversity. Miller met the greatest challenge of his career last season, when a lingering groin injury hampered his performance. Unwilling to admit pain to his teammates, Miller battled his way through 2004 to a .211 batting average — mediocre for the warrior seeking perfection.

“[Last year], I never wanted to let my teammates or my coaches down,” Miller said. “I knew I was a significantly better player than what I showed.”

After taking last summer off to heal his injuries, Miller rebounded in the fall with a renewed enthusiasm. An avid observer of the subtleties of baseball, the senior constantly tweaked his swing and approach to the plate. Now, with the weight of captainship and his farewell campaign on his shoulders, Miller is ready to quietly set a winning example for his fellow warriors in battle.

“You could tell from the get-go who the leaders are on this team,” said freshman outfielder Brian Kaufman. “[Miller] carries himself better than anyone else — a good leader keeps everyone upbeat.”

For his part, Miller’s coach is loathe to predict which player will be able to replace the senior’s contributions — both on and off the field — upon his departure.

“[Miller] certainly has been a solid performer for his entire career here,” Ford said. “He works hard and he expects his teammates to do the same thing. He will be missed.”

Whatever the future holds for Miller, it is clear his contributions to the baseball program over the last four seasons have been invaluable. Yet, personal accolades aside, Miller still knows his final quest is not nearly complete. The Ivy championship beckons — untouched by Cornell ballplayers since 1970 — and it will take the greatest of heroes to conquer it. Lucky for this year’s squad, that hero is not too difficult to find.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen
Sun Senior Writer