KINSTON, N.C. -- 1987.
It was the year that the Kinston Indians became a Cleveland Indians affiliate. And that may have been only the second-most significant event in the team's modern-day history to occur that year.
It was also the year that 20-year-old Delmont Miller joined the club's press box corps as scoreboard operator.
In the two decades since then, Miller has become as much of an institution as you will find in the Minors. In fact, he has his own entry in Wikipedia, quite possibly the only Minor League scoreboard operator who can make such a claim.
Miller is legend in the Carolina League.
Rolling into the pressbox usually just moments before first pitch, he keeps up a continuous stream of chatter, most of it off mike but not all of it.
Part of the Kinston Indians' game tradition is to have Miller give nightly "shoutouts" to regular fans and special guests alike over the public address system. He also gives everyone an update on what he ordered from the Kinston concession stand for dinner that night. (Friday night it was "chili dog and fries." It's pretty much always washed down by "an ice-cold Mountain Dew" (Kinston Free Press beat writer David Hall estimates that it's that particular soda "about 99 percent of the time").
In the ninth inning, it's also Miller Time and he runs through the stands with a giveaway T-shirt that ends up in the hands of a lucky fan.
The Indians have honored Miller over the past few years, this season on Aug. 2, with "Delmont Miller Night." On those evenings, he threw out the first pitch and participated in many of the on-field promotions.
Being given a night of his own ranks as Miller's highlight over his 20 years in the box. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "That was amazing."
There are possible plans in the works to add a Delmont Miller bobblehead doll giveaway to next year's night. He is totally in favor of that idea.
Miller, whose dad got his name off of a can of Del Monte peaches, is a familiar sight outside of Grainger Stadium and around town on his blue bicycle.
And no one who has met Miller ever forgets him.
"I can't imagine a game without him," longtime Kinston GM/President North Johnson (now GM of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans) told Hall. "There's been a lot of change in that press box over the years, but Delmont's been the constant."
Before taking over the scoreboard operations, Miller worked for the team as a clubhouse assistant and even as the team mascot (when they were the Blue Jays) when he was 18.
"The thing that lets you know about Delmont's notoriety more than anything else is that whenever I run across players that played in Kinston, whether it's guys who are now in the big leagues or guys who are out of baseball and out and about in the real world, one of the first people they ask me about is always Delmont," Johnson said.
Miller may be the best-known of the Kinston press box crew, but he is by no means its only character.
Public address announcer Jeff Diamond, who has a voice that is a total giveaway to his "day job" as the 9 a.m.-2 p.m. disc jockey at local Oldies 107.9, got started with the pre-game shoutouts to various familiar fans. Among the traditional riffs was "Mr. Turn It Down in Section 4," so named because he frequently asks the press box to turn down the music.
The fans on hand in Wilmington on Friday night got a scare when Frederick's Mario Delgado hit a line drive that nailed Blue Rocks pitcher Mike Rozier in the head, delaying play for nearly a half-hour before an ambulance arrived to take the Red Sox pitching prospect to the hospital.
Carolina League president John Hopkins was in the stands at Frawley Stadium.
"It was a scary moment, it really was," he said. "The ball hit him and changed direction 90 degrees, right into the dugout."
Fortunately for Rozier, the ball hit him behind his ear rather than full on in the forehead, but the impact was enough to cause a Grade 2 concussion, requiring careful monitoring for a few days. Rozier had a CAT scan but was released from Christiana Hospital the same night and given clearance the next day to return to his home in Georgia.
The news wasn't as good for the Blue Rocks, who fell to the Keys, 9-4, and were eliminated from the playoffs.
This and that
Kinston lost starting SS Brandon Pinckney when he was promoted to Double-A Akron on Aug. 28 to give the Aeros some added insurance with SS Ivan Ochoa slowed by a strained hamstring. Pinckney had been hitting .277 with five homers and 55 RBIs. The Indians had been expecting to get him back for the playoffs, but when Akron 2B Eider Torres had his jaw broken in a fight with a teammate, Pinckney remained with the Aeros. Chris de la Cruz, who came up from Lake County to replace Pinckney remained at shortstop for the Indians for the postseason.