What made the events at the recently opened East Bay Baseball Academy in Oakley remarkable was that Miles was not paid a cent for his time. Saturday’s event occurred during the week in which he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds after just two months with the Oakland A’s. The 33-year-old Brentwood resident and Antioch native is coming off a tough, injury-plagued season with the Chicago Cubs.
But Miles’ story is inspirational for every kid who dreams of making it to the big time, despite not having been blessed with the most athletic body. Miles is just 5 foot 8 inches tall, and it took him eight long, hard years of struggling in the minor leagues to make it to “the show,” where he went on to help the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series. It’s a story right out of one of those inspirational Hollywood sports movies from the 1930s.
Heritage High’s new baseball manager Kevin Brannan was asked what it means to his players to have Miles share his insights. “I think one of the biggest advantages is, obviously, the fact that he’s a big leaguer,” he said. “Kids are going to open up their eyes and pay a little more attention. But just taking a look at him. He’s not a 6-foot-2 guy. He’s a kid that worked hard. What it allows them to see is: hey, if they do the same type of things, then they can succeed as well.”
Jeff Houston, a PONY league manager who has known Miles since they went to Antioch High together, helped organize the clinic. Back then Houston played football. “Aaron is one of the few kids that we were really bummed that he didn’t come play football as well,” said Houston. “But it looks like it turned out well for him. We have just enjoyed following his career. It’s a great story for kids: hard work pays off. He’s persevered. Kids don’t realize that. They watch baseball and other sports on TV and think they can just play and show up. The hard work is the important thing, and that’s what he teaches.”
They decided to keep the camp small – just four players from each of the five local high schools were invited – in order to provide more personal coaching. “He wanted to run a camp that was a functional camp,” said Houston. “It’s easy to throw a camp together and have 300 kids at it. And 280 of them are standing around. That was really the purpose: for him to spend some good quality time and give back to the local kids. Every time someone like this wants to put something together and other people get involved, it turns into a $300 (charge per person) day. We wanted to keep it free. Aaron wanted to keep it free too. It was important to him to give back to the kids and let them see the kind of work that he puts in to be where he is. So it all worked out.”
Miles discussed strategy at the plate, including the need to wait for your pitch and try to hit the pitch where it’s thrown: outside pitches to the opposite field, down-the-middle pitches back up the middle or into the gaps and inside pitches get pulled.
In the previous week with the younger kids he discussed how to break out of a slump. “A lot of times you’ve got to take the pressure off of yourself by not trying so hard,” he said. “Sometimes less is more. The big thing is go to the batting cage and work on it. But you got to try to relax and try to not do too much. Just relax and tell yourself you’re confident.
“We have highlight tapes and can pull up videos of us doing good, which always helps. When you’re going bad, all you can think about is how you’ve been going. It’s a little discouraging. That’s when you have the tapes and remember when you got those base hits or a home run and think in a positive frame of mind. It does wonders for your psyche and how you’re going to go about the next at bat. You say, ‘Hey, you’re the same person and you can do it.’”
A lot of East County folks will be rooting for Miles to make a comeback this year from last season’s slump. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to watch him as an Oakland Athletic. But Houston said Miles believes he might have a better opportunity career-wise in Cincinnati.