A passion for baseball that hits close to home
Miller pitches ‘A League of Their Own’ for CPC Film Series
By Leslie Heimbaugh
Knightly News Film Correspondent
For a few hours on a recent picture-postcard spring evening in May, everything was pretty much perfect in CPC Professor Paul Miller’s world. He was surrounded by cherished family, friends, students, and athletes at his beloved Central Penn College, talking about two of his greatest passions: baseball and movies.
During an extraordinary installment of the CPC Film Series, Miller presented the 1992 film “A League of Their Own.” Over 60 people gathered in the CPC outdoor student fellowship area on May 14 to celebrate the warm weather and the sport of baseball.
Several players from the CPC baseball team were on hand to autograph baseballs and movie posters and play catch with Camp Hill’s Challenger Baseball team – a little league team for special needs children. The event also served as a fundraiser for the CPC Knightly News Media Club, which included a feast of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, popcorn and other movie snacks.
Miller initially scheduled this presentation for last spring before the pandemic started. Social distancing rules made gathering impossible, so he decided to make his own documentary about the CPC Knights’ truncated baseball season.
“The Final Out” told the story of five senior players who played an integral role in the most remarkable prospective team in Central Penn baseball history. The pandemic forced these talented young men to grapple with the finality of forfeiting their last chance to play the game and possibly win a baseball title for Central Penn.
The well-received 10-minute film spawned “Extra Innings,” a series of four subsequent two-minute shorts on additional topics related to the original documentary.
Before screening the film in the Capital BlueCross Theatre, where the event moved to after an inflatable screen in the campus fellowship amphitheater failed, Miller gave a presentation centered around his lifelong love of baseball. He also discussed the inspiration for the film – the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was based in the midwestern U.S. and played for twelve seasons between 1943 and 1954.
Miller began his discussion with a fond reminiscence of how baseball captured his heart when he was just six years old.
“I remember my whole first season,” Miller said. “I did not swing the bat until the last game of the season. I walked a bunch, I struck out a bunch – but I did not swing the bat. The last game of the season, I finally swung the bat – I got a base hit, and it was like, the greatest moment of my life.”
Miller called out his mother, Julie Miller Carson, seated nearby, and thanked her for getting him involved with baseball. Upon her introduction, the crowd burst into spontaneous applause. It quickly became evident that Miller and Carson share a special bond.
Carson knew that as a single mother, she wanted to be extra supportive of her only child. She also wanted him to find an activity that got him out of the house and interacting with other kids his age. Carson thought sports might be an option.
“Paul was always an intellectual child,” she said. “I knew it would be good for him to get some exercise, learn about good sportsmanship, and to be part of a team.”
But what sport could she choose?
“I wasn’t really into sports – except maybe tennis,” Carson said. “Football was out of the question. I knew too many people who suffered permanent injuries from the sport, and I wanted to protect him.”
Carson recalled that Miller’s father was an enthusiastic Cincinnati Reds baseball fan – so much so that he was almost late for their wedding because he was watching a game on television.
“I should have known,” she said with a laugh.
So baseball it was. Even though Carson lived in Mt. Holly Springs and worked in Harrisburg – a significant drive from their home – she prioritized attending every one of Miller’s baseball games. Miller even recalls having to change his clothes in the car on the way to games and practices.
“[Baseball] was something we could do together,” said Carson. “He was my only child, and I wanted him to flourish. I couldn’t understand why other parents dropped their kids off and left to do something else while they practiced. Because I worked full-time, I wanted to be together for the four hours I had to spend with him each evening.”
It turned out that Miller was quite a talented athlete. He made the all-star team four times and attributed some of his success to his mom’s dedication.
“She did everything in her power to ensure that I could play because she knew I loved it so much,” said Miller. “I played until I was about 13, and those years were some of the best of my life.”
Even though his playing days were behind him, Miller says baseball remained a passion. He was obsessed with stats, and there was always a game on TV.
“I just absolutely love everything about the game,” he said.
Then came the baseball strike of 1994, which Miller described as devastating.
“As a 13-year-old that was in love with baseball – to have the game taken away was one of the biggest soul-crushing blows I can remember,” he said.
Miller was so frustrated with the strike that he gave up watching baseball for four years.
But in 1998, the legendary homerun battle between right fielder Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and first baseman Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals brought him back to baseball. The two traded places at number one until McGuire ultimately triumphed with 70 home runs in a single season – surpassing New York Yankee star Roger Maris’s long-standing and highly coveted 1961 record of 61.
“Not only did McGuire beat Roger Maris’s record – he destroyed it,” Miller said.
Anyone who knows Miller knows he is a massive fan of the Chicago Cubs. So it makes sense that November 2, 2016 – the day the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years – is an important date in his life. Miller is an early riser – he is typically out of bed by six a.m. – so staying up late is usually not an option. However, he made an exception to watch his Cubs, even though World Series games do not even start until 8 p.m. and often run past midnight.
“I can’t function on less than six hours of sleep,” Miller said.
That brings us to game seven. The umpires called a rain delay in the ninth inning, which usually results in a 30-45 minute pause. Miller knew morning would come too quickly and thought he would have time for a short “rain delay” catnap.
“I set my alarm for 30 minutes,” Miller said. “When I woke up, I found out the delay was only about 10 minutes – I missed part of the game!”
Fortunately, the game went into extra innings, and the Cubs ended up winning the series.
“I will never forget sitting downstairs by myself, crying because of how emotional it was,” Miller said. “To watch your favorite team for the last 20 years break a 108-year-old losing spell – that’s what baseball and being a fan is all about.”
Miller said some of the finest times in his career have been during his role as the play-by-play commentator for the Central Penn Knights baseball team. Along with recent CPC alum Brian Christiana, Miller realized that with today’s technology, broadcasting the games would not only be possible, but an amenity very much appreciated by the players’ parents and family members unable to attend.
“It has been my dream to be a baseball announcer – even though it’s only for a handful of games each season,” he said. “Being able to be there for the athletics department, validating all of the hard work that everyone puts in, is one of the best parts of my year. It’s why I wake up in the morning – it really is.”
Now, Miller’s love of baseball has come full circle. He says that one of the highlights of his life is coaching the Camp Hill Challenger Baseball team, for which his son, Hunter, 21, plays. Miller recognized all of the Challenger team members in the audience, who received a hearty round of applause.
“I just love Hunter – he’s one of my best friends in the world,” Miller said. “He loves sports but has a hard time following the rules. About six years ago, we found Challenger Baseball, and we immediately gravitated toward it.”
Carson is very proud of the man that her son has become. She said she sees a lot of herself in Miller – that he is a hard worker and cares very much about what happens to people.
“I always told him, ‘Do what you love, and it will make all of the difference,’” she said. “I think he does that every day, but then again, I’m his biggest cheerleader.”
Heimbaugh is the CPC Film Series Correspondent and the co-president of The Knightly News Media Club.
Have a comment or a story idea? Contact KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.edu.