Barely two calendar weeks into the season, it's tough to say whether the Clay Miller of new is the Clay Miller of old. That is, the Clay Miller that Bayfield Baseball fans have ingrained in their brains.
Nonetheless, the former Wolverine looked last Saturday night, May 27, to finally have returned to his senior-year form and the independent Pecos League's reigning champions couldn't have been happier.
One of the true highlights during the Tucson Saguaros' 6-1 start, Miller excelled in his long-awaited pro debut. And not as a late-game substitute or pinch-hitter, but as the home nine's centerpiece.
Facing the Hollywood Stars, who'd already fallen 14-4 in the teams' season-opener two nights before and 8-2 the next night, Miller was given the Game 3 start at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
In eight solid, sometimes overpowering innings of work, he allowed just four hits and two runs (only one earned) while walking none and fanning 11 to stand as the pitcher-of-record in Tucson's 4-2 victory.
Against 29 batters faced, he threw a reported 91 pitches with 74 going for strikes. Losing pitcher Tom Haas, meanwhile, threw 129 pitches (67 strikes) in taking an eight-inning, complete-game loss, though offensively he managed a triple and two RBI in his four at-bats.
No slouch with the stick either, Miller went 1-2 at the plate with a walk and, perhaps to be fair to the falling Stars, struck out once.
"It felt great!" he said. The 2013 BHS grad has spent the past three springs as pitching coach and assistant to father Bert at Ignacio High to while rehabbing his re-engineered left arm,
Again quickly taking charge of the Pecos League's Pacific Division, the Saguaros' three-run sixth inning helped them overcome a 2-1 deficit facing them after three, with both teams having scored once in the first.
Up next, the "Cactus CrewC completes a three-night, three-game homestand versus the Adelanto High Desert Yardbirds from California at 7 p.m. Saturday, and then battle the 'Birds twice on Sunday and once Monday at neutral Warren Ballpark in Bisbee, Ariz.
Tucson's first road swing then follows with a June 6 doubleheader in Los Angeles at the Stars' Griffith Park, then a four-night, four-game set in Bakersfield, Calif., against the Train Robbers ending next Saturday night.
Stars Notes: A first-year member of the Pecos League, the Stars, which got their first 2017 win in the second game of a Memorial Day doubleheader versus Tucson, filled the void left by the re-affiliated Salina Stockade of Kansas, while serving in a similar "travel team" capacity.
But according to the Stockade's website, the Pecos League will attempt to bring Salina-currently a travel team in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball's Southern Division-back in 2018. Salina, meanwhile, was to visit the Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts-the Association's Championship Series runner-up last summer-this week for a Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday set, with the 'Nuts skippered by Pete Rose, Jr., and the Stockade by J.D. Droddy.
Droddy, who flew 44 combat missions in B-52 Stratofortress bombers during the Vietnam War, had been interviewed by the Times after it was announced Miller had signed with the Saguaros. Droddy led the Tucson team to a 51-14 regular-season record and Pecos League championship in 2016.