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The memory of his mother and grandmother pushes Jai Miller to succeed

Orioles outfielder watched both die in a car accident when he was 13

March 23, 2012|By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

This spring he's trying to show the Orioles he can work quality at bats. Through the spring's first 10 Grapefruit League games, Miller was hitting .333 and led the Orioles in both extra-base hits (5) and RBIs (7), but recently he has struggled, going hitless in his last 13 spring at bats.

"That just comes with time and learning yourself," Miller said. "As you develop as a hitter and you develop physically, because I'm way more stronger at 27 than I was at 19, just at-bat after at-bat, you understand what guys are trying to do to you. You know what you do well and what you may not handle as well. You just have to stick with it."

Miller still faces a tough road to making the Orioles' Opening Day roster. In December the team signed veteran Endy Chavez, who is hitting .500 this spring, to be the team's fourth outfielder. And the idea that the Orioles will carry another player who is exclusively an outfielder is unlikely, especially considering infielders Wilson Betemit and Ryan Flaherty have also played in the outfield this spring.

Despite playing in just 28 major-league games in his career, Miller is out of minor-league options, which means if he doesn't make the team, he'd have to clear waivers before the Orioles could send him toTriple-ANorfolk.

"You have to keep in mind that Jai hasn't played a lot of baseball," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's a fabulous athlete. Being out of options kind of hurts players. As much as it's there to kind of protect them, it hurts some players like him because it's tough to get them to a place unless they clear."

But Miller isn't one to give up — the memory of his mother and grandmother keeps him focused on a big league career.

Back in Selma, Miller is revered. There's a new high school baseball tournament there named after him. And Jai, who still lives with his grandfather in the offseason, makes sure he visits the graves of his mother and grandmother on their birthdays and on Christmas.

Miller also carries his memory of them onto the diamond, as each of Miller's fielding gloves has either his mother or grandmother's name printed on them.

Baseball may be just a game, but for Miller, he's playing for a higher purpose.

"I think she's smiling down from above," Randall Miller said of his daughter, "as proud as could be."

eencina@baltsun.com

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