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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Miller takes pride being a backup

By Tim Kurkjian

Corky Miller. It is the perfect name for who he is and what he is, a backup catcher. This spring, Miller is with the Reds. Most baseball reference books list his first name as Abraham. Some teammates have called him that, but his real first name is actually Corky. His parents named him after a relative named Clark, who went by Corky.

"My mom used to tell me if I ever became the president of the United States, I would go by C. Abraham Phillip Miller," Miller said with a laugh. "But I haven't come close to becoming the president."

Corky Miller
Corky Miller, 38, is hoping to make the Reds' Opening Day roster as their backup catcher.
If there were such a thing, he would be the president of the Backup Catchers Club. It's a unique fraternity of guys who have been backup catchers their whole careers. They bounce from team to team, from bullpen to bullpen, warming up pitchers, giving the starting catcher a rest, then warm up a few more pitchers. They are catching lifers, they play for a different team virtually every year, they just don't play very much: Henry Blanco, Chris Stewart, Chris Snyder, Koyie Hill, Brett Hayes, Yorvit Torrealba, Gerald Laird, to name a few.

"I saw Matt Treanor [now with the Indians] the other day," Miller said. "When you see one of us, you just kind of nod and smile at them. I looked at Matt, nodded, smiled and said, 'Still grinding it out, huh?' He smiled back at me with that look of, 'Here we go again.'"

Some of the backup catchers have played every day for brief stretches in their careers, such as Laird and John Baker, now with the Cubs. David Ross, one of the best backups in the game, not only got a World Series ring last year with the Red Sox, but he started a few games in the 2013 postseason. Miller is 37 years old, he made his major league debut in 2001, and he has played 216 games for the Reds, Twins, Red Sox, Braves and White Sox. And yet, despite all those years, he has never played as much as 40 games in a season. He is the only non-pitcher in history to play that many games without playing 40 in any season.

"My job is to make sure the starting pitcher is prepared and ready to go, I take care of the pitchers, even if I play once a week," Miller said. "One year in Atlanta [2008], backing up Brian McCann, I played once every 16 days. When you haven't caught in two weeks, it can get a little crazy. But when you do play, you have to hide your emotions. You are there to give the starter catcher a breather. You can't get p---ed off, and get kicked out of a game."

Miller, 38, has had 100 at-bats in a season once in his career (114 in 2002), his season high for hits is 29, for home runs is three, for RBIs is 15.

"That year in Atlanta, I had 60 at-bats in 51/2 months," he said. "That was tough for me, but it was so much fun backing up Brian, who was a young guy learning the game. That was the most fun I've ever had. I have always wondered, 'What would happen if I ever got a chance to play?' But I also wonder if I'd gotten one year to play, then I might have been done playing after that one season."

“There are a lot of guys that I've played with over the years, and a lot of them aren't playing any more, and I still am," he said. “I have been wondering since all the way back to 2005-06, 'How much longer am I going to play?' And here it is, seven years later, and here I still am. I go back and forth on this: 'Do I start coaching or managing now, and start to build that career, or do I keep playing?' I've been a third catcher or a backup or an emergency catcher for Reds since 2009. When I didn't get called up to the big leagues in 2011 and '12, I thought that might be it. But here I am again."

Miller is, at best, a third catcher for the Reds this spring. He might or might not make the team.

"I still get up at 6 a.m. every day, get in the hot tub and get ready to catch every day," Miller said. "It's something that I still want to do. And it's something that they want me to do."

His name is Corky, he has been called Abraham, but with all he has done, he is Mr. President.