By Tim Chambers
A youthful Happy Valley baseball team has suffered some tough setbacks this season, but none were as big as the one they were dealt in game three.
Senior catcher and leading hitter Zack Miller was lost for the season with a back injury after hurting it in the season-opener win over Johnson County while sliding into second base.
The senior leader was on his way for what appeared to be an incredible season after two and half games.
His red hot .714 batting average (5-for-7) was on of the best in the Northeast Tennessee yet his leadership was invaluable to a team that sometimes starts as many as six freshmen.
“I was hoping to help the team as much as I could,” said Miller. “I had worked hard in the offseason on my game and wanted to see what I could do. I was real excited about having coach Caleb Moore here and getting to play for him this year because he knows so much about the game. I had a lot of expectations but God had a different plan.”
Miller caught the second game of the season despite the injury. It was in his third game when he realized that his playing days might be over for the season.
“I was the DH in the third game and in my first at bat I got a hit,” said Miller. “It hurt all over after I swung. I basically had to walk to first base because of the pain. I knew something was wrong — I just wasn’t sure what it was.
The diagnosis was a good one for Miller.
He had fractured the lumbar four in his lower back. The doctor told him he would be our for four months.
“When he told me that I didn’t hear anything else,” said Miller. “I just dropped my face in my hand. It was devastating knowing that my high school baseball career was over.
Miller stayed positive and showed just what kind of leader he is on the team. He’s at every game on the bench, keeping the scorebook and instructing the young kids.
For Moore, it’s like having a second coach on the bench. Losing him was definitely a fatal blow for his team.
“I feel so bad for him because he was the leader on this team,” said Moore. “He still attends all the games, keeps the book for us and is always trying to get the players up especially the younger kids. I honestly believe if he were playing that we could have probably won three or four more games. He was a guy who could drive in runs for us and we’ve had trouble all year doing that. But Zack is also a kid that worked his tail off — regardless if it was baseball or football. That’s what I love about him.”
The hardest part of Miller is watching his young teammates struggle without him. He tries to encourage them by reminding the make the most of their opportunity.
“I’m have a pretty good relationship with our younger players,” said Miller. “Coach Moore has helped me a lot as a ball player and a person so in return I just want to help them. He’s a young coach but a good coach — one heck of a coach. We’ve got some very good young players that are just now starting to come around. You can see improvement in their game every day. If might not reflect in wins and losses, but it’s there. It’s a big jump going from middle school to high school varsity baseball.”
Miller is the son of Brian and Sheila Miller. His older brother Jake was a standout player at Happy Valley two seasons ago. He also has a younger sister Kaylee. He credited his dad for pushing him to be the best.
He indicated that he and Jake might try to walk on at ETSU next season if the opportunity is there.
“You never know,” said Miller. “This has all been a test for me. I’ve learned never to take anything for granted because God opened my eyes as to how fast something you love so much can gone in the blink of an eye.”
Moore thinks that coaching could be in the cards for Miller later on down the road.
“He sits on the bench with me and picks my brain,” said Moore. “I like our talks — catcher to catcher. I can actually see him doing this one day. He had a passion for it.”