When Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Aaron Miles, a 1995 Antioch High grad, faced San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong on Monday night, the matchup was fitting.
A few months ago, neither player knew what his future held. In 2010, the 34-year-old Miles hit for an average of .281 off the bench with the St. Louis Cardinals while filling the lineup card at second base, shortstop, third base, designated hitter, pinch hitter and even pitcher. But after the Cardinals opted not to re-sign him, he was offered a minor league contract this winter by the Dodgers.
Vogelsong, 33, was a failed hot prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization – a lottery ticket a few digits off from a winner. From 2007 to 2009, he pitched in Japan, returning to the states in 2010 in search of another big league shot. After bouncing around from Philadelphia to Anaheim, he was offered a minor league contract this winter by the Giants.
Neither club could have suspected what happened next. Vogelsong (who held Miles to just a bloop single on Monday) now leads the National League in earned run average, a scant 2.02. Miles has cemented himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles infield, hitting .311 in 251 at-bats – second on the team to All-Star Matt Kemp.
The former Panther, who is near-sighted, credited corrective eye surgery in November with increased success in the batter’s box. The fact that he’s always had an ample supply of elbow grease helped.
“I feel like I’ve been a born-again player, just given a gift of better eyesight to go along with my experience and knowledge,” Miles said. “I feel like I’ve got an advantage. Out of nowhere, I can see the ball better and that’s the main thing in this game.”
Miles has taken a long road to Major League success. He spent eight years in the minor leagues after being drafted by Houston Astros out of high school, finally getting his first call-up with the Chicago White Sox in 2003. Miles cracked the starting lineup the following year for the Colorado Rockies.
With renewed vision going into this season, Miles forced the Dodgers’ hand in spring training, batting .321 including two home runs in 53 at-bats. Instead of sending Miles to their minor league team in Albuquerque, the Dodgers told him to head to Chavez Ravine.
“He’s been solid all year and he’s been a nice surprise for us,” Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s been a guy that swings the bat good from both sides of the plate and he’ll play everywhere. When he’s in there, he does his job.”
Monday night proved a homecoming for Miles, who was welcomed by his own fan club, comprising his parents – Herb and Fran – other relatives, friends and members of the Antioch Sports Legends Museum.
Herb, as Antioch legend goes, built Aaron a batting cage in the backyard so his boy could take some hacks whenever he wanted. That decision might have rankled neighbors, but it pleased the Panthers. Miles became a high school All-American for Antioch, which was one of the top prep teams in the state when he was there. In his senior year as a Panther, he batted .538 and drove in 34 runs. Antioch also turned 37 double plays in 26 games that season.
“He was the first guy out and the last guy to leave,” said John Whitman, the Panthers’ manager from 1982 to 1998. “His teammates looked up to him because he worked so hard. His work ethic was so good that everybody else’s work ethic raised up, too.”
Los Angeles players have also taken in Miles with open arms. Teammates and coaches described him as the kind of guy they love to be around, one who will do whatever he can to help the team. Infielder Jamey Carroll, his double-play partner for much of the year, believes Miles has been a positive influence on the team.
“He’s a good clubhouse guy who brings a lot of life to the atmosphere – and that helps out a lot,” Carroll said. “He’s got a good track record and it was just a matter of getting an opportunity.”