By Chris Kline
December 7, 2005
When Jay Miller was in second grade, he wrote a paper in which he said he was going to make his living in baseball. At the time, he thought that meant as a player, but he still turned out to be prophetic.
After a career that began as a jack of all trades in rookie ball and even saw him spend some time working in the major leagues, Miller has ascended through the ranks of minor league baseball and helped turn the Round Rock Express into one of the most successful franchises in minor league sports. For his efforts, Miller is our Minor League Executive of the Year.
Like most minor league executives, Miller’s beginnings in the industry were quite modest. Though he played baseball at Wheaton College in Illinois, he did not sign a professional contract and instead of pursuing the dream he had outlined as a seven-year-old, chose to go to Western Illinois University to earn a masters degree in sports administration with hopes of breaking into baseball management.
“I still credit Baseball America to this day for helping me get my first job,” Miller said. “I read a story in 1982 on Larry Schmittou. At the time, Larry owned six minor league teams. I decided that was the guy that was going to hire me.
“The only reason I decided that was because he had the most teams and I figured he had the most jobs.”
After pestering Schmittou with weekly phone calls for two months, the owner ended up offering Miller a position as assistant general manager with Eugene, Ore., of the short-season Northwest League for $500 a month.
Miller spent a season in Eugene before Schmittou sent him to Salem, Va., to be their general manager in the Carolina League. A year later, Schmittou was named vice president of marketing for the Texas Rangers and brought Miller onto his staff.
For the next twelve years Miller stayed on with the Rangers in a variety of roles within the marketing and ticket department. This also included a stint of over two years in Port Charlotte, Fla., opening up a new spring training facility. While he enjoyed his job with the Rangers, Miller had the itch to get back to the minor leagues.
“I was missing minor league ball to be honest,” Miller said. “I went through a couple of the MLB strikes where you had to take some pay cuts and I decided I just wanted to get back to minor league ball.”
It was then that Miller became the GM of the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs. While with the Zephyrs, Miller oversaw the construction of a new $23 million stadium and helped lead them to franchise record-setting attendance in 1997 and 1998.
In 1998 his career would take a major turn, and it was a connection he made with the Rangers that precipitated it.
“I met Nolan (Ryan) in 1989 when he signed with the Rangers,” says Miller. “Him and (his son) Reid called me and told me they wanted to buy a team and move it to the Austin/Round Rock area and if I knew of any that were available.
“I started laughing because I had gotten a call like two weeks earlier from Con Maloney who owned the Double-A Jackson club and he said, ‘Jay, I know you know a lot of people in baseball and I want to sell this.’ I put the Ryans and Con Maloney together and they struck a deal within days. (The Ryans) told me that if they did it, they wanted me to run (the new club) for them.”
Minors’ Texas Star
Upon their establishment in Round Rock, the Express set new standards from the outset. In 2000, their first year of existence, the Express established a new attendance record for Double-A with 660,110 fans and Miller was recognized by the Texas League as its executive of the year.
Round Rock did not stop there, however, as it would break its own record four times over the next four years, topping out with 689,286 fans in 2004, and Miller was named the league’s executive of the year again in 2003.
“The one thing Jay has imparted on everyone on our staff more than anything is looking out for the fans’ best interest,” said Reid Ryan, the president and chief executive officer of Ryan/Sanders baseball. “There are times where we may want to do something that has an impact on the fans. The one thing Jay always does is make us remember to keep the fans at the forefront our mind.”
After the 2004 season, Miller was named chief operating officer of Ryan-Sanders Baseball and president of the Round Rock Express. Ryan-Sanders Baseball is the ownership group that owns the Express and at the time had just established the Corpus Christi Hooks. The Hooks took the Express’ spot in the Texas League while the Express moved up to the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2005 and barely skipped a beat, finishing second in all of minor league baseball in attendance.
It is a marvel that Miller’s clubs have succeeded regardless of the level, but it is a credit to his management philosophy that focuses on the most basic element of the customer service that he constantly preaches.
“If we got season ticket holders that come here every night, we are going to introduce ourselves, we are going to get to know them,” Miller says. “People light up like a Christmas tree when you call them by their name. To me, that is everybody’s favorite word.”
While he may not have played baseball for a living like he had once hoped, Miller still relishes the privilege of just being around the game.
“I get to go to a baseball park everyday as a job. Does it get any better than that?” Miller asks. “I don’t think it does.”