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RIP Bill Miller: A most genuine baseball man

April 24, 2018 FieldsColumn

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Bill Miller was all smiles after PRP won its sixth state baseball title last year. (Photo by Ken Weaver)

BY MIKE FIELDS

Bill Miller, the most genuine baseball man I ever met, passed away Monday. He was 68.

If there is an open acre in Heaven, Miller will turn it into a baseball diamond and be happy hitting fungoes for eternity.

Bill Miller was the baseball coach at Pleasure Ridge Park for nearly four decades, and in that time built the Panthers into the best high school program in Kentucky. 

They won six state championships — the first in 1994, the last in 2017 — because Miller was tough and demanding, and as gritty as infield dirt.

His 1,144 victories at PRP stand as a state record, and a tribute to sustained excellence.

I first got to know Miller in the early 1980s, before PRP was a baseball powerhouse. He was a proud PRP alum (Class of 1967), and had played catcher in baseball and fullback in football, so toughness was part of his being. He was an imposing guy, a bear of a man, and you approached him with trepidation. 

But once you really got to know him, and he got to know you (and better yet found out that you shared his love for baseball), he was an engaging conversationalist.

He was always more than willing to share his opinions on the game, unafraid of stepping on anybody’s sensibilities. (For example, he hated that parents were pushing high school coaches aside in favor of private instructors. Hoo, boy, could he blister that subject!)

Whenever a baseball issue was bubbling, whether it had to do with a rule change or restructuring the playoffs, I’d call Miller knowing he would give me an honest (and quotable) take. He was as unvarnished as a freshly lathed Louisville Slugger.

Miller was also a master strategist, looking for any edge between the chalk lines. (To him, a bunt was a most effective weapon. Pitching and defense were, of course, the staples.)

It took Miller a while to push PRP to its first state title. The Panthers were runners-up to unbeaten Madison Central in 1982, to Owensboro Catholic in 1985 and to Harrison County in 1993.

The close calls just made Miller more determined, more dedicated. He remembers prophetically telling people that, “Once we win one, we’ll win a bunch.”

PRP finally broke through in 1994, Miller’s 14th season as coach, when it beat Corbin in the state finals.

The Panthers so loved being on top that they stayed there — winning it all again in 1995 and 1996 to become the first three-peat champ since Ashland nearly 30 years earlier.

After finishing runner-up again in 1999, PRP reclaimed its preeminence with state titles in 2008, 2013, 2017.

After each of the Panthers’ titles, Miller would inevitably break down in tears in the post-game interviews, actually sobbing, as he credited his players and assistant coaches and the PRP community.

The big ol’ tough guy didn’t seem so tough in those moments.

I visited Miller two years ago, seven months after he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He seemed in strikingly good health, his disease in remission, and he was eager to see how much he could get out of his young PRP Panthers.

Miller was emotional that day as he talked about all the well wishes and prayers people had sent his way when they heard about his illness.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “God’s been good to me, and I didn’t know that before.

“So many people reaching out to me. It’s hard to believe, just hard to believe.”

Miller eventually lost his battle with cancer — he died two days after his induction into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame — but not before he got in his final swings by guiding PRP to another state title last June.

True to his character, Miller once again shunned the spotlight. 

“Everybody wants to turn it around and make it about me,” he said, fighting back those familiar tears.

“But it ain’t about me. It’s all about the kids, and I’m so happy for them.”

That’s why we’re all so sad today, with the passing of the most genuine baseball man I ever met.

Bill Miller hugged one of his assistants after last year’s title game. (Photo by Ken Weaver)

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