Jay Miller ditched a graduation cap in favour of a ball cap.
Instead of walking across the stage with his classmates in Corner Brook and graduating high school with his friends, the 19-year-old's dreams brought him to a pitching mound in North Carolina to play for a travel baseball team called the Dirtbags.
“I didn’t get to experience grad,” said Miller, who graduated last June. “That was tough.”
The loss of graduation was the price of following a dream Miller's had since he started playing baseball in Corner Brook at a young age: to play collegiate baseball and maybe get his shot at the professional level.
He got one step closer to that dream when he signed a letter of intent to attend the University of North Carolina Greensboro to play baseball.
“I’m super excited to get going,” said Miller. “Now that college baseball has started again, getting to watch the team I’m signed with play is pretty cool.”
Missing his high school graduation was part of a bigger move to better his chances of seeing his baseball dreams come true when Miller joined the Sudbury Voyageurs as a 16-year-old in February 2020.
He got there just before COVID-19 turned the world on its head. After spending three months in isolation, Miller returned home to Newfoundland and worked out before heading to North Carolina, where he played with the Dirtbags in the summer of 2021 before spending the fall with the Pro Five Baseball Academy.
Over the winter months, Miller has spent time in St. John’s, working out at the Premier Sports Academy in Paradise ahead of his return south to play with Pro Five again.
Along the way, he's sacrificed birthdays and missed spending time with his family and his friends, but it's a choice he stands by today.
“I’m glad I made the decision at 16 because it kind of caught at the age where if I was going to do baseball and play at a higher level,” said Miller. “It allowed me to train and get ready to play at a higher level.”
For a second, close your eyes and imagine your image of the ideal pitcher. You might imagine a tall athlete with long arms and broad shoulders who can make a baseball explode from their hand as easily as water pours from a faucet.
That's Miller in a nutshell. He stands six-foot-six, weighs 230 pounds and has those long 'pitcher's arms.' He can fire a fastball that hits as high as 91 miles per hour on the radar gun and has refined his changeup and curveball to be equally as dangerous with the help of his coaches, both at home and abroad.
“Jay has a nice pitcher’s body,” says Frank Humber, who knows a bit about pitching himself.
First PG event last weekend ☠️🆙-5.1 IP, 6K, 0BB, 0ER@dirtbag_swag @PG_Uncommitted pic.twitter.com/K6U8h0obvX— Jay Miller (@thejaymillerr) July 5, 2021
Humber, who is from Corner Brook, turned a four-year career at Wake Forest into a 1989 Major League Baseball draft selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers, making it as high as Triple-A in their system.
He also pitched for Canada at the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.
As he has with pitchers who come through the Corner Brook system, Humber has seen Miller come up through the ranks and worked with him.
It's special, Humber says, that Miller comes along just a couple of years after another Corner Brook product, Myles Vincent, pitched for the Canadian junior national team.
“I think in another five or six years, we could have another kid (play collegiately), and I think that is kind of special,” said Humber.
‘22 Jay Miller (NC) showing a feel for a three-pitch mix. His fastball is in the upper-80s that worked well when he dropped in a changeup with fade in the upper-70s. Also flashed a breaking ball with good depth to it as well. Athletic; as shown at the end. #BCS @PG_Uncommitted pic.twitter.com/omzFTS9DvC— Perfect Game Florida (@Florida_PG) July 23, 2021
On top of Miller’s baseball acumen, Humber has been impressed with Miller off the field as well. It was part of the reason he felt comfortable setting Miller up with his former teammate Sean Gallaher, an associate head coach at the Pro Five Baseball Academy.
“He’s proven himself to be a great ambassador for Corner Brook, for Newfoundland and us all,” Humber said.
He also hooked Miller up with Larry Colbourne, another Corner Brook native living in North Carolina. The pair played together at Wake Forest and Miller stays with Colbourne when he is in North Carolina.
Colbourne's and Humber's journeys from Newfoundland to college baseball mirror Miller’s in a way and they’ve proven to be invaluable resources for the youth. Any time he has questions about navigating collegiate baseball as a Canadian transplant, Miller always has a knowledgeable ear at the ready.
“I think it just the biggest resource,” Miller said. “It’s someone that I trust and came from the same place that I did.”
Miller’s opportunity to attend UNC Greensboro started when he attended a prospect’s camp for the team. That’s where coaches first got a look at him, and soon after, offered him a spot.
Officially a #Spartan ✍️@UNCGBaseball pic.twitter.com/FEV0GjR0LM— Jay Miller (@thejaymillerr) November 11, 2021
From there, all that was left was to sign with his new school.
That moment came during an event in Corner Brook, at Jubilee Field where he spent so much time over the years. That’s when he put pen to paper and took another step towards his dream.
“It was grounding to know all of the hard work and sacrifice has led to the moment,” said Miller.
Nicholas Mercer covers sports for The Telegram