0329Miller

Bland (Va.) coach Mike Miller flashes signals during the Bears’ game at Summers County Tuesday. Miller played for his dad, Mike, at Summers from 1995-98.

HINTON — Thus far, Mike Miller hasn’t had much luck at his old stomping grounds.

Three times Miller has brought his Bland (Va.) baseball team to Summers County, and three times the Bears have lost. The latest was Tuesday’s 7-6 loss, a bitter one to swallow considering Bland led 6-1 in the sixth inning.

But the losses have done nothing to dampen his returns to Summers, from which he graduated in 1998 and closed his career as an all-state second baseman.

“It’s good. The kids have fun with it and they been asking me questions about this and that,” Miller said. “I really like Josh (Houchins, the Bobcats’ current baseball coach and a former teammate of Miller). I’ve known him since I was probably six or seven. And (assistant) Joe (Blankenship) is here. It’s fun to come here and see the kids.

“It’s not a bad trip. (Summers) is a good double-A school to compete against.”

Miller played four years for his dad, Mike, before moving on to Concord. It was obvious to anyone who talked to him back then that he would one day be a baseball coach.

He inherited the Bland program prior to the 2004 season and immediately began the process of building it up. The Summers field looks a bit different than it did when Miller played — metal bleachers, lights, handsome new dugouts and a press box/concession stand directly behind home plate — and he has seen much of the same thing at Bland.

“We’ve made a lot of improvements to the field and the facility,” Miller said. “We’re getting an interest (from) the kids. We have about 47 kids from seventh grade through 12th. It’s a good place to coach, the kids work hard. We’re in a very competitive district. But we’re getting better. That’s all I can ask is for them to get better each year.”

The Bears are a relatively young team, and it showed Tuesday.

After scoring five runs in the sixth inning to break a 1-1 tie, Bland watched as the Bobcats tied the game in their half of the sixth and win it in the seventh. The end of the game was especially tough on promising freshman Jacob Lambert, who gave up a game-tying grand slam to Shawn Weikle in the sixth, then allowed Mark Stiltner’s ground ball to roll through his legs at shortstop with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.

“You have to learn,” Miller said. “When you’re a small school you have to play your freshmen and sophomores. They have to understand you have to get ahead (early). We made a mistake early in that inning on an 0-2 pitch down the middle. You can’t do that. We’ll get better from it and we’ll work on it.”

Miller’s coaching philosophy is a mixture of what he believes, a little of what he learned from his dad and some of what he picked up from Concord coach Kevin Garrett.

“In high school we hit a lot, and we still hit a lot at practice,” he said. “I take some from (his dad) and I take some from Kevin Garrett. I bunt a lot, (but) neither one of them did. It’s my philosophy. I squeezed in a couple of runs today. That’s kind of my take. You kind of get some from everybody you played for and put it all together. That’s how I coach.”

Does he wish his dad would have asked him to bunt more?

“No,” Miller said, laughing and without hesitation. “I liked swinging the bat.”

Miller and his wife, Julie, are expecting their first child, a girl, in May. The excitement has already had an effect on Miller, both personally and professionally.

“Everything’s going well so far. I’m excited,” he said. “We’ve changed things around the house.

“I can even tell (I have changed). I was a little testy my first few years (of coaching), but this year things have been put into perspective more. Losses aren’t as bad. Kids make mistakes, but they play hard and they don’t do it on purpose. I’m kind of understanding that.

“I’m just trying to teach out here.”

— E-mail:

gfauber@register-herlad.com

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