There aren’t a lot of guys like Dave Miller around the local sandlots anymore.
Miller, who heads the Manchester baseball club in the Central League, has been involved with the Indians' organization as a player, coach and manager for 41 years.
Such devotion to the game and a program is certainly in rare supply nowadays.
“I do whatever it takes to make things go,” Miller said moments after he finished throwing batting practice before his team’s contest with Pleasureville Tuesday evening.
While Miller has certainly developed strong bonds with all of his players and the team’s fans, there’s more to his drive than just that.
“There was a guy named Lewie Hale that used to be here,” Miller said. “And when Lewie was on his deathbed, he made me promise that I would see that Manchester kept having a team. And I said ‘I will do that for you, Lewie.’ So, yeah, I do whatever I can to make it happen.”
Making it happen hasn’t been a cakewalk for Miller over the years. The Indians suffered through some tough times, while rivals such as Mount Wolf, Dover and a few others were ruling the Central League in the 1990s and earlier this century. Through thick and thin, Miller has been a rock for the organization that has rebounded over the past decade to earn a place among the league’s better teams.
“Some days it’s harder to do than others,” he joked.
Keeping up with the times: Miller has been successful not only because of his affable personality, but also for his ability to keep up with the times. When Miller was a standout pitcher in the league in the 1980s it was unthinkable for players to take a vacation during the season.
Those days are long gone now. On any given night these days, Miller can never be 100 percent sure just who will and will not be available to participate.
“I have 20-plus guys on the roster and if I can get 13, 14 or even 15 here on a game night that’s pretty good,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get guys as much playing time as they want.”
Managing local sandlots teams these days can be tough. Some nights the dugout is full, which means that a number of players may not play. On other nights, however, players may be in short supply, with Miller scrambling to fill out a full lineup.
“Nobody wants to come to games and not play for two weeks,” Miller said. “They’ll quickly find something else to do in that case. It’s not like it was back in the '80s, when you knew that you had 12 guys that were going to show up every night. Nobody took vacations, but I understand it. People have different schedules and different things that go on in their lives and I don’t want to take that away from them.”
Miller also has seen times when players who are looking for playing time are missing on the same nights. That's an opportunity missed for them.
“I only ask that if you can be here, be here,” he said. “And sometimes it will happen where one guy doesn’t show up, but then four other guys don’t show up when they’d have their chances to get in. I know that if a guy tries to do something that I try to stay with him for a little bit, but if you’re not here, I can’t play you.”
The 2018 season: Much like the rest of the league, Miller’s biggest juggling act this season has been with the weather, which wiped out a good portion of the first two weeks of the season for many squads.
Miller, however, has been able to make up a lot of those games so far, which can make the points standings a bit deceiving.
“We’ve played 15 games so far (before Tuesday),” he said. “And some others have played only 11, 12 or 13. I do think that it’ll be interesting as it comes down to the end of the season.”
Miller and his Indians (9-7-1, 28 points after Thursday's 6-1 win over Dover) find themselves in close-knit race with six other squads as the calendar gets ready to switch to July. Unfortunately for them all, they are well behind league-leading Stoverstown (15-1-1, 46 points). Manchester is currently in second place.
“I hate when you bring that up,” Miller joke about the Tigers' impressive early-season run. “So far we’re not in a position to really chase them. We had them beat the first game we played them, but we had an error and then gave up a two-run home run and lost 3-2. And we tied them the last time.”
Don’t think that Miller is about to throw out the white flag on the season just yet. Clearly giving up is not in his DNA.
“Stoverstown may get in a slump, we’re hoping,” he said. “And I’m sure the rest of the league is hoping for that too.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.