Ben Miller savoring final one postseason run
By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com
Think about the boring agony that boards a bus ride from State College, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh.
Then, from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio.
If that isn't enough heavy sighing, how about another trek from Columbus to Bloomington, Indiana?
Not if you embrace the attitude of one Ben Miller.
The Nebraska senior baseball player is careful to soak in every minute, every card game, every joke, every stop on this literal journey to the end of his collegiate career.
Miller, a first baseman who cracked the career 200-hit plateau earlier this season, is a positive person, anyway. This is part of his human nature, undoubtedly a reason on Tuesday he earned Nebraska's recipient for the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
Now, however, comes one final crack to right some wrongs at the Big Ten Tournament, and then to cause some more postseason clatter.
This trip might as well be a private first-class flight, the way Miller sees it.
“There are a lot of people who wish they could be doing what we're doing, and playing at such a high level and be gifted with skills that other people don't have,” Miller told me in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “I make sure I take advantage of it every day, because you never know when your time will be done.
“The season's almost done here, and being a senior, I just want to be sure to take advantage of every game and every opportunity, because these are memories I'll have forever. When I'm sitting at a desk job, I'll wish I was back playing.”
Miller isn't ready to be finished. He will do anything and everything in his power – home runs or otherwise – to make sure Nebraska's postseason baseball run lasts as long as possible.
It begins Wednesday, when the top-seeded Huskers (38-18-1, 16-7-1) face No. 8 seed Purdue (29-25, 12-12) in the first round on Indiana's home field.
Nebraska, of course, is coming off Saturday's 21-3 victory over Penn State that closed the regular season and secured the program's first Big Ten title, and first conference title since 2005.
“It was a pretty good moment,” Miller said in an obvious understatement. “We went into the game knowing just win the game, and we were outright conference regular-season champions.
“The game ended up being kind of a crazy one, scoring 21 runs, but it was cool celebrating with the guys and taking it all in, because there are a lot of guys on the team who haven't really been in that situation or anything. Just being in the locker room celebrating with the guys was pretty fun.”
Miller would love nothing more than celebrate again this weekend in Bloomington. First, the Huskers must end a dreadful streak of five losses in the Big Ten Tournament. Not since advancing to the championship game in Omaha in 2014 has Nebraska won a game in this event.
In fact, the Huskers mustered a mere three runs over two games in last year's tournament in Omaha.
“We definitely have some work cut out for us,” Miller said. “Hopefully this year it's a different story and we get some under our belts and help solidify our spot in the postseason.”
That seems rock solid at this point. Nebraska, though, won't know of its NCAA Tournament destination, or seeding, until Monday. Possible locales include Norman, Oklahoma; Fayetteville, Arkansas; or even Lubbock, Texas.
Miller doesn't mind where, of course, or the mode of transportation.
“I'm just having a lot of fun right now, making sure we're having fun but also competing,” Miller said. “This team, we're special. We definitely have some fight in us.”
This is why returning for one final season became a no-brainer decision for Miller, who was taken in the 32nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Coming back for my senior season has been a dream come true,” he said. “I definitely haven't regretted my decision, because it's been an awesome ride spending time with these teammates. It's been great.”
Even through that rough slump to begin the season.
Miller, a career .303 hitter entering 2017, had just 10 hits in 71 at-bats – a .141 average – through Nebraska's first 19 games.
He didn't mess with his swing or mechanics. He didn't second-guess his approach.
Miller simply did what he's always done – remain even-keel.
“It's part of baseball,” he said. “It's making sure you stay positive, and help your team out. You don't want to show any weaknesses for the other team, either. They feed off that.”
Sure enough, on March 28, Miller began a stretch in which he went 25-for-59, or .424. That included a white-hot eight straight hits in a series against Maryland. The day he went 4-for-4 against the Terps, on April 8, he became the 25th player in school history to total 200 career hits.
Miller, now batting .296 with 11 doubles and three homers, enters the Big Ten Tournament with 233 career hits, placing him 15th all-time at Nebraska.
“Just keep swinging when you're in a slump,” Miller said. “Just keep doing what you're doing. The more you think about it, the harder it is to get out of it and the harder it is to go to sleep every night knowing that you're not feeling it.”
A native of Clive, Iowa, Miller came to Nebraska on his pitching laurels. He could hit in high school, too, but never knew how the transition to college would go at the plate.
“They gave me a chance to hit, and I guess the rest is history,” said Miller, who's also pitched in his Nebraska career, including three starts this season with a 1.12 ERA.
“I definitely had some rough patches (hitting), like every baseball player does. I've been able to work through those. Hitting has been bigger than pitching for me, and I'm just riding that out and having a lot of fun doing both.”
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.