Corky Miller stood on first base, just a few feet from where he had been coaching about a half hour earlier.
Miller, the baseball veteran whose official position was catcher for the Louisville Bats, had just walked in the ninth inning of a game with the Gwinnett Braves. The Bats' manager, former MLB infielder David Bell, called for a pinch runner.
Bell only has about three years on his catcher, and with his thick mustache, Miller looks much older than his 36 years, and older than his manager.
But when Bell sent the runner to replace him, Miller, a veteran of 10 major league seasons who has never played more than 39 games in a season in the show, saw no reason to loaf. He took off for the third base dugout. As he ran, he received an ovation from the somewhat sparse Louisville crowd.
Miller was last up with the big-league Reds two seasons ago, a competent fill-in on a contending team that had some injuries. Miller did a nice job in his limited role, hitting a pair of homers and driving in nine runs, giving Cincinnati some help in what became a division championship season.
But in 2011, there was no call-up for Miller. A call-up this season seems unlikely, with the Reds sporting two strong catchers, not to mention the existence of 27-year old former Dodger Dioner Navarro on the Bats' roster. Moments after Miller's walk, Navarro clubbed a two-out, game-winning grand slam to right. The Bats ran on to the field and celebrated, though with not quite as much gusto as you'd see in the big leagues. A big-time celebration here won't see ESPN.
It's possible that Miller may never see the bigs again, at least as a player. He spent much of that game on the bench, though he did alternate with fellow AAA veteran Willie Harris coaching first base. Unlike Miller, Harris has played for the Reds this season, and was, for a brief time, a full-time player earlier in his career. Two years younger than Miller, Harris still can run, bunt, and play multiple positions. When I watched him coaching first base, I only could imagine his thoughts:
"I hope I get back to Cincinnati (or any of 29 other cities) soon."
When you go to a AAA game, it's tempting to watch the young prospects. I kept my eye on shortstop Didi Gregorius, a shortstop from the Netherlands who was brought up to Louisville just last week. At 22, Gregorius has shot up the system since being signed as a free agent in 2008. Monday night, he hit a homer to right against the Clippers in Columbus. After seeing this guy twice in three days, I'm certain he'll be in the big leagues soon. And, if the first place Reds decide they need help to win now, I could see Gregorius making the show somewhere other than Cincinnati.
But at AAA, the most interesting thing to me is the older players, guys who know they may never be stars, may never make the big leagues again.
A guy like Miller could get down about that.
Or, he could hustle, like an 11-year-old little leaguer.
Saturday night, he chose the latter.
That's why we should appreciate Miller. That's why we should appreciate the minor leagues.