By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
FORT MYERS — Brad Miller can remember the nervous feeling he had as he waited to make his Spring Training debut for the Seattle Mariners in 2012.
Miller, now with the Tampa Bay Rays, got into a March 7 game that year against the Los Angeles Angels, replacing Brendan Ryan at shortstop. He went 0 for 2 at the plate.
Five years later, the nerves have disappeared, but not much else has changed for the now 27-year-old, as he and the Rays played in their first Grapefruit League game of 2017 last night.
“It’s always exciting to get it going,” Miller said. “Each year is different. You definitely still feel that same excitement. Maybe things are a little slower (now) than it was that day because it happened pretty fast.”
Even more vivid in Miller’s memory is his first spring training start, which came 10 days later against the Chicago White Sox.
“I remember facing Jake Peavy because one of our guys got sick before the game, so that was pretty cool for me,” he said. “Getting to face a guy like Jake Peavy who had been in the big leagues for a while, and play their starting lineup was pretty cool.”
He went hitless again in that game, too, totaling two hits in 14 at-bats for the entire spring.
One difference from 2012 Miller and 2017 Miller, aside from “about 40 pounds,” is his standing with the club. Five years ago, he was a non-roster invitee with the Mariners, trying to break into the big leagues as a short stop.
Today, Miller is Tampa Bay’s starting second baseman, a few months removed from a career-best season where he hit .243 with 30 home runs and 81 RBI.
Miller, who moved from short to first base in the middle of last season, will be playing second for the first time since 2015, when he appeared in 11 games for the Mariners at that position. In his 488-game career, Miller has played second base 37 times.
Rays manager Kevin Cash is pleased with how quickly Miller has been getting acclimated to the position.
“In fairness, he didn’t play second last year, so he hasn’t played it in a while,” Cash said. “I’m probably more excited about the way he’s taken to the position and the way he’s looked at second base as much as anything that’s gone on in this camp so far.”
It’s not surprising how quickly Miller has been getting reacquainted with second base because of how much pride he takes in his defense.
“I just enjoy playing baseball,” he said. “I enjoy being out here and I enjoy putting in work. That’s what’s been fun for me.”
Not many people can say they’ve played six different MLB positions – seven if you count DH – in one season, but in 2015, in addition to being a middle infielder, Miller also played third base and all three outfield spots.
“I played a lot of positions for the first time in my life in the big leagues, which is kind of cool in its own way,” Miller said.
He likely won’t have to worry about keeping track of all those different gloves in 2017.