Miles, who played baseball for back-to-back North Coast Section championship teams at Antioch High School, has found success as a Major League second baseman, but he never "Big Leagues" the fans who've supported him throughout his baseball career.
"Antioch has been real good to me. All the coaches from Little League to Babe Ruth all the way on up through high school were so helpful to me and to other kids," said Miles. "Antioch has always been very community oriented - I have a lot to be thankful for and I like to give back to that community. Obviously I'm not 6 foot 4 - it gives some of these kids some hope (that they can make it as a professional ballplayer, whatever their size) and points them in the right direction."
Miles is listed by the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he helped win a World Series championship last season, at 5 feet 8 inches and 175 pounds, hardly imposing for a professional ballplayer. Despite his relatively diminutive physical stature, Miles has excelled at the Major League level since making his debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2003.
"The big thing is that the skills you have to have to play baseball have to be honed and you have to work at them. You can't just be some big, strong kid and go out there and get the job done," Miles explained. "In baseball it's key that you keep honing your skills and getting better - that's the number-one thing. That's why when these kids come and they look at me, some of the kids who aren't as big and might have thought they don't have a chance see that they can make it. I try to show them that hard work is the only true path to success. It's a good life lesson for them, because that's what it takes to succeed in life, not just baseball."
Photo courtesy of Jim Lanter
Hard work has certainly paid off for Miles, who boasts a career .280 batting average over four Major League seasons and finished fourth in the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year balloting as a member of the Colorado Rockies.
The Houston Astros selected Miles right out of high school in the 19th round of the 1995 amateur draft and he spent five seasons in the organization's farm system before being selected by the White Sox in the 2000 Rule V Draft. When he was finally called up to "The Show" late in 2003, Miles certainly didn't disappoint, batting .333 in eight games. That December, Chicago traded the up-and-coming second baseman to Colorado, where he went on to bat .293 in his first full season in the Majors. The next year, Miles batted .281 in 99 games for the Rockies, and was dealt to St. Louis after the season.
"The first thing I thought of when I got traded to St. Louis was that I might get a chance to go to a World Series," Miles said at an autograph and photo session held at Antioch's Golf N Games Family Fun Center just before he took off for spring training. "I looked at our team and there are a lot of veteran guys, guys who'd been there in 2004 and been in that World Series. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time."
While St. Louis might have been the right place for Miles as a ballplayer, East County has always been the right place for him those precious short months during the off-season. He is a winter regular at the batting cages of Golf N Games, where owner Jeff Warrenburg has gifted him with a lifetime pass, and he's also been extremely active in coaching local high school and junior college players.
"Aaron is great. He's a very humble guy," said Warrenburg, who's known Miles ever since he bought Golf N Games four years ago. "He's one of a kind with everything he does for the community. Whenever he's here he's giving kids pointers in the cages - a couple times a week in the off-season. Customers are always asking about him and when he's going to be around. He's very popular around here."
"It just feels awesome to know that what I'm doing is being acknowledged," Miles said of the crowds that turn out to greet him when he shows up for his annual signing sessions at Golf 'n Games, being honored with "Aaron Miles Day" in the city of Antioch and the general fuss his home town fans make whenever they run into him.
Still, more often than not, even with his adoring hometown fans, the conversation typically turns quickly to his more famous teammates. A fact that doesn't bother Miles the slightest bit.
"The kids get to hang out with me a little bit and I pretty much seem like a normal guy to them," said Miles, who enjoys helping to give young fans an inside look at life as a Major Leaguer. "Most of the kids that I talk to want to find out about the other players; they want to know what's up with guys like Albert Pujols and Maglio Ordonez and they ask about them all the time. I enjoy talking about them. As a young kid I was always infatuated with big league ballplayers and since I've gotten to meet some of those guys, some of my idols, I think it's neat to talk about them with kids who idolize them. Every so often I'm able to give the kids little tidbits (about they're favorite players) that nobody else knows, so they feel pretty privileged."
Miles grew up an A's fan at the height of their dominance throughout the late '80s and early '90s; his own idols including Bash Brothers Mark McGuire and Jose Canseco and stolen-base king Ricky Henderson. Miles is thankful for having been fortunate enough to meet each of them on his professional journey. As a middle infielder himself, Miles relished watching the sparkling glove work of shortstop Walt Weis and second baseman Mike Gallego, whom he later had the chance to work out with while playing in Colorado.
One of the biggest thrills for Miles is playing for former A's manager and current Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa, and, thanks to the miracle that is inter-league play, he'll enjoy yet another such thrill this season when his Cardinals travel to Oakland to play the A's.
"This year's going to be my first time coming home to play at the Coliseum. I've gotten to play at SBC Park the last three seasons and that's always been a good thrill, but I'm really looking forward to playing at the Coliseum. I played there in high school and now, 13 years later, I'll be coming back," beamed Miles. "I think there will be some extra emotion taking the field there for the first time as a professional. I played my last high school baseball game on that field - we won the NCS for the second year in a row - I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember thinking that I'd finished my high school career on a Major League field and I just couldn't wait to get back there. It took me 13 years to do it; thank God it's finally going to happen."
Miles reported to spring training last week, ready to begin the defense of last year's World Series championship and eagerly awaiting Opening Day, when he'll receive his World Series ring and be announced as a World Series champion for the first time. Although he figures to receive less playing time this season, backing up both newly-signed second baseman Adam Kennedy and shortstop David Eckstein, Miles will certainly be called on to be a key contributor for this year's Cardinals squad.
Whatever the extent of Miles' role on this year's Cardinals team, his role as a leader and role model in East County will continue for the foreseeable future, as he and his wife Courtney recently purchased a home in Brentwood.
"The main thing is family. My wife is from here and my family and her family are both from around here. That's really what it's all about, being around your family. That's what makes you feel rich," explained Miles. "We have to be away from my family for long enough anyway - seven or eight months out of the year. I have a small time to be back here and I look forward to it every year, and I look forward to settling down here after I'm done playing. This is where I want to be and this is where I will be."