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Baseball: Central helps team manager Connor Miller achieve lifelong dream
Forsyth Central senior Connor Miller (right) gives a fist-bump to teammate Chase Hillenbrand before the Bulldogs’ game against Lambert on April 10, 2019 at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Ian Frazer

At any given Forsyth Central athletic event, there’s a good chance Connor Miller is on the sidelines with the Bulldogs.

Miller, a senior, has been a mainstay as a team manager at Central over his two years at the school with the baseball, football and basketball teams. Football was his favorite sport growing up, but in recent years, baseball has particularly stuck out because of the relationships he’s formed with the team.

Despite his love for sports, though, Miller has scarcely been able to actually play them. Miller has cerebral palsy, a disorder that limits his movement and speech, but that hasn’t stopped him from being as involved with his passion as he can.

“The one thing I love in life is sports,” he said. “Being involved in sports makes me feel a little more normal. This team is the best – they don't view me as only a manager. I'm actually a part of the team here. That's really fun.”

Before every baseball game, Miller stands in front of the dugout and greets the starters as they’re announced before the national anthem, and during games, he’s just as vocal as the rest of the team. He takes his role as a manager seriously: He’s knowledgeable about the game, offers encouraging words to the players after rough moments, and doesn’t hesitate to dish out some constructive criticism when it’s needed.

“He picks up a lot of things that you sometimes don't think people are picking up on,” Central coach Kevin McCollum said. “He holds the guys accountable. (He) lets them know when they're not hustling or making bonehead plays and stuff like that. All the little things, the two-strike approach, all that kind of stuff, he picks up on. He knows what we want from the kids, and it's good to have another set of eyes to help keep people accountable.”

With the Bulldogs hosting senior night against Collins Hill on Tuesday, head coach Kevin McCollum decided it would be a perfect time to give back to Miller for everything he’s done for the program in his two years with them. After Collins Hill’s coach agreed to participate, McCollum let Miller know of the plan give him an at-bat on Monday. Miller was elated, but still found it hard to believe.

“It was always a dream of mine,” Miller said. “I talked to coach about it early on in the year. I always knew he was trying to get it for me but I always assumed it'd be really hard to. He told me on Monday (that) I was getting one on Tuesday, and I was like, ‘Man, it's probably not going to happen.’”

The encouragement started to come in not only from the Central community, but also from South Forsyth’s Landon Sims, one of Miller’s good friends, who Miller was actually trying to get to pitch to him.

Despite Miller’s doubts, his dream ultimately came true just like McCollum said it would. In the bottom of the first inning, Miller grabbed a bat and a helmet and stepped to the plate. Even in that moment, his very first time officially participating in a sport in his life, he couldn’t help but keep his manager’s mentality.

“I was just thinking, ‘I cannot strike out,’” Miller said. “That was my only thought.”

The first pitch grazed Miller’s elbow, but he connected on the second one down the third base line and ran as fast as he could to first, soaking in all the cheers as he finally stepped on the bag.

“He works hard and does a lot of good things for the program,” McCollum said. “If that's a little gift we can give back to him, that's awesome. That should be what it's all about.”

Now that Miller has had his moment, his focus is, as it’s always been, on the team and how much he can do to help the Bulldogs reach their goals. It’s his hope that he can do his small part in giving his team moments they can all revel in.

“Playing sports in general has always been a dream of mine, but I never got to do (it),” Miller said. “Having that at-bat just made my life. I'm just focused on winning these last (few) region games, helping the team as much as I can.”