See also: 2006 College All-American Teams
Andrew Miller’s 13-2, 2.11 season stands as a key reason for North Carolina’s first College World Series berth since 1989. But the junior lefthander would rather be known as one of many Tar Heels piled atop one another after Chad Flack’s game-ending home run to clinch a super-regional series win at Alabama.
“I think he kind of feels uncomfortable talking about himself,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said of his junior lefthander. “You know how kids can be, they don’t want people to think they think they’re better than anybody. His parents said he’s always been like that. Even in high school he didn’t really want the attention. He’s a big kid at heart and a great teammate.”
But Miller, all 6 feet and 6 inches of him, can’t hide from the attention now. His dominant junior season, in which he posted a 119-36 strikeout-walk ratio and allowed seven extra-base hits (and only one home run) in 111 innings, not only helped him meet a personal goal of reaching Omaha, but also earned him Baseball America’s College Player of the Year award.
“I appreciate all the awards and the accolades, but the biggest memory for me is going to be we went to Omaha and what we accomplished there,” Miller said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to have a good year on a team that’s not as good. I’ve never really been a part of a team like this.”
Miller becomes the sixth pitcher to win the award in the last 25 years and the first lefthander to ever claim the award. The honor–and humility–came in the middle of perhaps the best week in Miller’s life. The Tigers drafted him sixth overall on a Tuesday, and three days later he struck out 11 Alabama batters over seven innings without allowing an earned run to put his team just one game from Omaha. He used his mid-90s four-seam fastball, 88-90 mph two-seamer and power slider to dominate the Crimson Tide, recording three strikeouts against leadoff man Emeel Salem.
“There’s a reason he’s the sixth pick in the draft. He’s a great pitcher. And it’s really hard to solve a guy like that,” said Salem, who hit .356 and was the only consensus selection on the all-Southeastern Conference first team.
“He has three pitches and even movement on a 97 mile an hour fastball. We didn’t capitalize when we had chances but he didn’t make enough mistakes for us to get anything going.”
Good luck blending in after a game like that. Even Alabama fans were asking for Miller’s autograph the next day. After honoring those requests, Miller settled into the North Carolina bullpen. Mr. All-American (the only player on both BA’s preseason and postseason first-teams) was down there holding a walkie-talkie, serving as the team’s communicator by relaying the coaches’ wishes from the dugout as to which relievers should warm up.
That perch gave Miller a great viewpoint to watch Flack’s heroics. “The great performance in the most exciting baseball game I’ve ever seen,” Miller said of the sophomore first baseman giving UNC a 5-4 lead with a three-run homer in the eighth inning and then turning a 7-6 deficit into an 8-7 win with a two-out, two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the super-regional.
“I just ran in from the bullpen as fast as I could,” Miller said. “I basically was right with Chad rounding third base. It was a unique feeling I don’t think I’ve ever had.
“That’s been our goal all year to get to Omaha. A lot of people started to think that Carolina is a team that never really makes it–a pretty talented team that falls apart at the end of the year. We’re finally going to Omaha and I can’t wait.”
Fox, who was coaching third base, said he’ll never forget the look on Miller’s face as he sprinted past, walkie-talkie still in hand, to join Flack and the rest of the team in a giant celebratory mass. It was all arms, legs, hats and cleats. Nearly impossible to discern any particular player. Just all Tar Heels. Just the way Miller likes it.