‘Twig’ to pitch for Colorado Mesa
Written by: Joel Priest
BHS ace jumps at Grand Junction offer
In addition to possessing one of the more unique nicknames in Colorado’s prep ranks, Bayfield’s Clay Miller can already lay claim to retiring a sphere of excellence—and now, with his most important autograph yet, can hope to one day do so at levels higher and higher up in the sport.
Putting it bluntly, the ‘Twig’ is ready to branch out.
First for a team—Colorado Mesa University—having recently readied two players for the pros, and located in a city home to the Colorado Rockies’ short-season, Rookie-level minor-league squad.
“CMU just felt like the right place,” Miller said Monday afternoon. “It’s really close and has a good history with their baseball program.”
“‘Twig’ came from back when we were little,” Miller explained, “playing baseball, and how skinny I was. Somebody just started calling me that and it stuck.”
“He’s got the stuff,” said BHS skipper Tom Horton, “and he’s got the grades! And there are people at higher levels who wanted him bad. But what they [Mesa] can’t give him athletically, they can give him academically. It’s a great fit.”
Coming off a stellar junior season, leading the Wolverines into the Class 3A-District 2 championship up in Broomfield, Miller’s arm was in demand when the summer season began. Playing AABC Connie Mack ball with Durango to start, he soon found himself on loan to the rival Farmington, -based Strike Zone Cardinals for a game in Atlanta, Ga.
“I pitched four good innings but ran into trouble in the fifth,” he recalled in a separate conversation. “However, I did manage to shatter a kid’s ankle with an inside curveball.”
Intermountain Leaguers and others know there is breaking stuff in Miller’s repertoire, but they’ll be fast to say his aspirin tablets—fastballs nearing 90 mph—cause far more pain, mostly of the mental sort, than relief. About a week later, Miller’s moment arrived.
“I went and played with Colorado Baseball Academy in Casper, Wyoming,” he said, of a trip to the American Legion ‘AA’ Oilers. “While there I went 11-15 with a homerun and the game I pitched [6-1 over Manhattan, Montana’s Legion ‘A’ Gallatin Valley Outlaws] I struck out 16.”
“The coach…put the ball in the Academy’s Wall of Fame, which is located in Colorado Springs.” Not even a high school senior, he already has a ball in display.
Eventually returning to hurl for Durango in the CML Tournament, Miller fanned 10 Farmington Piedra Vista Panthers in six innings of a 3-2 win, and also knocked in two runs, but then hit the road shortly thereafter to play in Buena Vista, Colo., alongside friend—and former Pagosa Springs player—Koby Close. And there he hit 12-for-18 with a homer, and K’d 13 in five frames of his lone tourney appearance.
[Lest we forget, Bayfield iced Close and BVHS in the aforementioned D-2 tournament’s semifinals, with Miller coming in to spell now-graduated Colt Walker—who’d plunked Close beginning BV’s seventh—and whiffing the side to earn the save before then starting the finale against Holy Family.]
Finally came an unusual, though coveted, workload in the Connie Mack World Series—with the Cardinals again, acquired after Durango failed to qualify—down at Ricketts Park in Farmington.
“Game 2, I got the start,” he said, setting the scene by mentioning the Strike Zones’ extra-inning loss in their opening contest. “Three innings later I was done. Two good innings and then the third was crazy. We had a few errors and they had several hits, but the real killer was that I broke three bats in a row and every one of those batters somehow got on.”
“Summer ended up really showing me what college ball is like…definitely got some exposure.”
And interest from several Division I programs, but Chris Hanks was plenty satisfied and inked him to a national letter-of-intent during the early signing period [Nov. 14-21] for 2013-14 enrollment, to help reload a D-II Mavericks roster which went 39-16 (32-8 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) last spring, but lost its four biggest games—two in the RMAC Tournament, two in the Mankato, Minn., NCAA Central Regional—to finish.
Mesa’s 2013 season will start Feb. 1-3 with non-conference games in La Jolla, Calif., against UC-San Diego, minus several players who have been drafted into pro teams.
“And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clay get drafted this next time,” Horton said proudly.
“I’ve got high expectations for us this year—and they’re anchored by him,” Horton continued. “We’ve got seven seniors—we’ve never had that!—and 11 returning lettermen, so I’m looking for us to go deeper into the state tournament.”
“And Clay’s now probably ‘opened the book’ on some of our other kids, like Matthew Knickerbocker…Hunter Funkhouser…and Trey Lange, our ‘power’ guy.”
“I just hope to play as long as I can,” said Miller, “and I feel Mesa will help me with that goal.”