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Texas notes: Miller shoulders load

Cardinals' top-ranked prospect embracing high expectations
August 2, 2011
Professional baseball is a painfully small world sometimes.

Springfield ace Shelby Miller was named to play in the All-Star Futures Game for the second straight year, but his parents, Mitch and Stacy, weren't able to make the trip to watch their son throw a scoreless inning for the U.S. Team. Instead, they stayed behind in Brownwood, Texas, to attend the funeral of Shannon Stone, the firefighter who fell to his death July 8 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington lunging for a ball tossed into the outfield grandstand by Josh Hamilton.

Stone, who left behind a young son, and the elder Miller were fellow firefighters in Brownwood and were once roommates before Mitch married Stacy.

"He knew him pretty well. He saw him every other day or when they were on the same shifts," Shelby Miller said. "That's just a freak accident that you really don't see happen. Having it happen to him was just unfortunate to all of us.

"You just keep praying for the family and that everything is eventually going to get better."

Brownwood is a town of 24,000, one that pulls together in times of tragedy, and Miller intends to do his part.

"I know that me and my family and the fire department, I'm going to set up a little baseball camp somewhere," said the 20-year-old right-hander. "Have a baseball camp for kids and they're going to come out and however much dollars we raise, I'm going to donate to the family.

"That's one of the things we're doing, and hopefully a lot of stuff keeps happening and we're doing well for them."

Miller, the 19th overall pick in the 2009 Draft, is the first high school pitcher drafted by the Cardinals in the opening round since 1991. He turned down the chance to play at Texas A&M -- with his signing bonus in excess of $2 million admittedly having something to do with it -- to get on with his pro career.

"It was easy for me because the money I got, I couldn't really turn down," Miller said. "They could have offered me less, and I most likely would've signed. If I would've known I would be so far this fast, I would've signed definitely."

Miller, the Cardinals' top-ranked prospect by, is the latest in a long line of Texas pitching products that includes Ryan, Kerry Wood, Josh Beckett and Roger Clemens, and Miller has some of that Lone Star swagger.

He predicted a victory before taking the mound in a Class A playoff game last year and delivered, and he openly dreams he might be mentioned in the same breath as Ryan someday.

"People know those names, and I want to be a Hall of Famer someday," Miller said.

But Miller was at a loss to explain how Texas came to be one of the nation's top fireball producers.

"We're just breeders, I guess," he said with a smile.

Miller is 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 65 strikeouts in his Double-A debut after opening the season in the Florida State League. He is working on a cut fastball and a two-seam fastball to complement his changeup, curve and a four-seamer that averages 94 mph, and he is clearly not afraid to take the ball and shoulder a load.

"He's one of the most accountable guys we've got on the staff," Springfield manager Ron "Pop" Warner said. "He's accountable for everything he does."

In brief

Grand exit: Arkansas Travelers outfielder Clay Fuller, 24, announced his retirement before Thursday's game at Springfield, expressing his intention to play college football at Baylor, which recruited him in high school. Fuller wasn't in Thursday's starting lineup, but manager Todd Takayoshi allowed him to pinch hit to lead off the ninth, and Fuller responded with a home run in his last professional at-bat. "Can you write a better story?" Fuller said.

Almost money: The Missions' Jedd Gyorko ripped a drive off Frisco's Joe Wieland in the eighth inning of a no-hitter Friday that looked like it was going out of the park but ended up dying short of the wall. Unfortunately, it was the "$1,000 Inning" with the payout going to a lucky fan if the Missions had scored. "That's the hardest hit ball off of me that has stayed in the park," said Wieland, now a member of the Missions after a trade-deadline deal. "I thought it was gone. I think everybody in the stands thought it was gone."

Todd Traub is a contributor to