Throw It Like a Ballplayer

providing baseball commentary and ponderings since April 2010

Ex-Cub Watch #3: Of Milton and Miles

Posted by dannmckeegan on May 6, 2010


This picture actually captures the farthest that Aaron Miles has ever hit a ball from home plate on a fly since. He reached base on the swinging bunt.

I’m actually not going to write about Milton Bradley’s most recent struggles here.  I can respect a guy reaching out for help, even if it seems to be too late from the outside looking in.  Back in April, I went through Milton’s past experience and the ways in which things have generally turned sour.  ESPN has covered the story, so I’ll just provide a link and simply say that where the last part of the story could fall into afterschool special territory, we ought to think it’s pretty cool that a guy at the breaking point himself could do this:

Bradley stood before students and teachers at Lakeridge Elementary school in south Seattle and openly discussed what motivates him.

Now he and the M’s can hopefully get him healthy, for the first time not worrying about the calf strains and tight quads.

That being taken care of, let’s move on to the most interesting thing Aaron Miles has ever been involved with (even if it’s about 90% fiction):

Aaron Miles, recipient of a 2-year, $4.9 million contract with the Cubs during the winter of 2008-09, was not exactly the right guy to replace Mark DeRosa’s production in the campaign to defend as division champs.  While Hendry correctly recognized that both men offer hustle and grit, he failed to account for the talent level difference between these two grinders.  Those who can play, play.  Those who can’t, grind.  And those who can’t grind have off-seasons like Aaron Miles.

“Aaron?  This is Jim.  I just wanted to let you know that Lou and I finished up our meetings and we always like to do what’s right.  There’s not going to be much more work here for you.  We know you’ve got that contract coming, so we’re looking to open things up.  I talked to Billy, Billy Beane, out in Oakland, and he says there might be some work out in California for you.”

A lump formed in Aaron Miles’ throat.

“I’m…I’m leavin’?”

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out.  You’ve been around long enough, though, to get through it.  Keep an eye on Jake.  Foxie’s got a bat, but he needs some help, you know?”

“Got it, Jim.  As long as I can, I’ll keep an eye.”

To say he was crushed would be an understatement.  The lake, the cool summer mornings, the free evenings, and the world-class culture: Chicago was an oasis for him in the deep fried desert of the Midwest.  He put his phone down on the kitchen counter and decided the best thing to do would be pack and get going.  You can’t look back.

Miles went to Oakland.  Well, his paperwork went to their human resources department.  On account of the fastidious Natalie in payroll, however, they avoided a messy system error by catching his direct deposit paperwork before it was processed, just as word came in that he had been sent back east.  He’d be going to Cincinnati, in fact, for Willy Tavares and Adam Rosales.  Largely seen as a salary dump, Miles booked two tickets for the flight, one for him and one for his new Athletics-turned-Reds teammate Player To Be Named.  A little turbulence, sure, but the flight was on time. He reflected that, while he couldn’t be there to help Jake out in Oakland, he could keep his promise in spirit by guiding PTBN through the changes.

After a season in which he hurt his shoulder and elbow, Miles looked forward to a fresh start, just him and PTBN, two grinders looking to hustle out a living, not afraid to get dirty or go the extra mile.  Unfortunately, a broken finger – or possibly fate – intervened and derailed his spring.  Returning late, he hit under .200 in limited time and was designated for assignment along with Wladimir Balentien.  Both cleared waivers, and only Balentien was assigned to the minors.

Making sure that Virgil in A/R got his information entered correctly, Miles packed his bags, took a deep breath, said his goodbyes, and headed out to the rental Sentra in the lot and drove to the airport, all the while wondering how many vacations he and PTBN could take on the $2.7mm the Reds owed him this season.

His reverie came to a close with a jolt as his cell started to buzz.  A text from his agent: the Rangers might be interested.  Kinsler’s hurt a little.  Miles reflected: Arlington.  A bandbox.  A hitter’s park.  No place for a grinder, surely.  He could wait.

Checking on the flight options, he realized that he was in no hurry.  He and PTBN traded in the gray Nissan sedan for a vibrant convertible, dropped the top, and gunned it towards California.  Arriving in Salinas, the two found a little day labor to keep their hands busy while their minds wandered.

“Maybe I could go into rabbit-ranching,” thought PTBN.

“Sure, PTBN, sure,” Aaron encouraged him.  Aaron knew it wouldn’t be long until he’d be heading back toward Memphis.  There’d be work for him in St. Louis, but he’d have to stop first in Memphis to get things in order.  But he knew that PTBN couldn’t make it – the trip, the traveling, the challenges.  But he knew that PTBN couldn’t be left alone, working his prime away in the fields thinking about rabbits and a future he’d never have.

Aaron carefully combed his goatee in the dusty old mirror, a crack running halfway down the center.  It took him a little extra time because the harder he tried to be meticulous, the more his hand shook.  Finally he got his goatee right and his hand steady.  He put on a little eyeblack, Kiwi shoe polish, really, for old time’s sake, and tossed the can to PTBN.  PTBN was sitting on the edge of his bed in the motel room, looking out the open door at the setting sun, even more lost than usual.  Aaron reflected on the unflappable calm on PTBN’s outside, all the while Aaron was afire inside with emotion.

“C’mon PTBN.  Lemme tell you about the rabbits again.  We’ve almost got enough saved up to buy the farm.  Another guaranteed paycheck should do it for us.  Let’s walk down to the creek.  I know you love when I tell you about the rabbits.”

Miles Cards

Aaron Miles in his old jersey, at one time the only shirt he cared to own. Washed in clear creek waters and dried on dogwood branches, that jersey's seen more wears than all of Cal Ripken's combined. And now he's almost home.

“Grab a drink, PTBN.  We might not have a chance to taste water this sweet again.”  Aaron’s phone rang, just like he knew it would.  Tony.

“You, too, Aaron.  But you know that whatever water we’ll have on our farm will be the sweetest.  It’ll be ours!”

A second ring as PTBN buried his face in the cool, clear water.  Aaron did what he had to do, did what he knew to be the right thing.  Stillness.  Silence.  A third ring.

“Tony?  Yeah, this is Aaron.  I had a feeling you’d call.  I’d love to come home.”

On April 29th, the Cardinals and Aaron Miles agreed on a minor league contract following an injury to Felipe Lopez.  Buried in the transactions register of the sports section on the same day was another single line:

AL: Oakland will send cash to Cincinnati in lieu of a player to be named later to complete a previous trade.


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