Honoring past Orioles

I’m happy to report that former Orioles pitching coach and manager Ray Miller looks exactly the same except for a goatee that he can wear without violating the club’s facial hair policy.

Miller looks terrific, which is a relief after he dealt with a serious health issue during his final season in the organization. He’s a pretty stoic guy, as old-school as they come, but the honor of being inducted into the Orioles’ Hall of Fame has clearly moved him.

“First time in my life I was speechless when they called me,” he said. “I never cry. I cried. Just thinking about all the people who are in there, and to be acknowledged with those names. All the heroes I had growing up in the area, most of them are in there, and to be put in there with them is a tremendous feeling.

“It’s been nerve-wracking trying to figure out a speech because, in 35 years, I’m going to forget somebody. But it’s just a great honor.”

Miller is enjoying retirement in Ohio, though his mowing and wood businesses keep him busy.

“My wife’s got some illness and I’ve had some illness, so we stay close to home,” he said. “I just work. Everybody says they can’t believe how many hours I work, and I say that’s because you’ve never been around a major league schedule. This is easy. Just getting your clothes together and having to be at the right place at the right time and carrying an itinerary in your pocket for 30-something years and flying all over the world. When you get home, a 9-to-5 job isn’t nothing.”

Miller says he misses the game, but not “the politics.”

“The latter part of my career, with the press, I thought some people took everything out of context, but the game I really miss,” he said.

“I’ve got a tape at home I turn on every once in a while. It’s the ‘79 World Series. I put a tape recorder on top of the dugout. You hear the fan noise. I put that on and it still gives me chills. In the background, you can hear Wild Bill Hagy doing the O-R-I and all that stuff.”

Miller tries to keep up with the current team and watch the games on television, “but I fall asleep all the time,” he said. He checks on Brian Roberts and often speaks with owner Peter Angelos.

“He calls me and tells me about the club,” Miller said. “He was telling me he really hopes he can get things turned around because he believes they’ve got some good arms to work with here. And getting Buck Showalter was a step in the right direction because he’s a winner. He’s a winner everywhere he’s been and he’s a good organization man.

“I think the only thing that happened here, from the Oriole Way to today, is the minor leagues and big leagues got on a different level. There’s too many different types of teaching instead of just one. Earl Weaver was the master of that, and I came in during that era where, whatever the Orioles did at 5 o’clock, we worked on tomorrow morning in the rookie league. I think Buck will get back to that and you’ll see great results.”

It’s appropriate that Miller will be inducted tomorrow along with the late Johnny Oates, his first catcher at Triple-A Rochester back in 1971.

Oates’ widow, Gloria, and their children will attend the ceremony.

“He would have definitely been so honored and thrilled by this,” Gloria said. “I think it’s just everything coming full circle in his life, and for us. I just know he’s beaming down on us today. I know he’d be very honored.”

This is their first visit to Baltimore since Johnny threw out the ceremonial first pitch before a 2002 game - one year after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor that eventually took his life on Christmas Eve 2004.

“It’s emotional, just walking up from the hotel and seeing Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and remembering riding here that day because he was already handicapped,” Gloria said. “Just seeing that sign through all the years and what it meant to him and to me, very emotional, but wonderful emotions.”

“I gave birth to my daughter Rachel about a year ago, so my dad never met her,” said Jenny Oates. “Baseball was such a huge part of my life. My brother and sister and I grew up at the ballpark. I kind of felt like Rachel would never experience that, or at least I’d never be able to experience that with her, so it’s just been great this morning to get ready and head over to the ballpark with her and to see the field. I have to admit I got choked up just holding her and being a part of it. It’s really special.”

“It’s awesome,” said Andy Oates. “This is like a full circle of his life. This is where he started. Forty years ago, or whatever it was, he was drafted by the Orioles and got his chance to start here. Then they gave him his first chance to manage. And now, for a moment like this, it’s like the circle is complete. And this probably being the last honor he’ll receive in this game, it’s been a 360-degree circle.

“When he left here, he didn’t think he’d ever be back. That would be the last time that Johnny Oates’ name was mentioned in Baltimore. For us to come back here now, I really wish he was here to see it because it’s really been neat to see the support from the whole Orioles organization, the fans, the words we’ve heard. I wish he was here to hear it.”

Oates’ tenure in Baltimore ended with his firing after the 1994 season. Phil Regan took over in ‘95 and lasted only one season.

“It was a very difficult time for him, but he learned perseverance and determination, which was already part of his character, but that grew even more so. And I think it added to the success that he had in Texas. I think that was a big part of it, the lessons he learned here,” Gloria said.

“When we came back to throw out the first pitch after his diagnosis, Mr. Angelos invited us to sit in his suite with him, which was another thing coming full circle. He gave us a big hug and he told me, ‘I wish I had never let him go.’ To me, that’s just such a blessing from the Lord to have that happen while Johnny was still alive. It was such a reassuring thing for him.”

Gloria was caught by surprise when Showalter phoned her to ask for permission to wear No. 26.

“It was just such a blessing,” she said. “He asked me to speak with the children, and as I made those phone calls and spoke to each of my children, it was just overwhelming to hear their emotion and excitement and their resounding, ‘Yes, yes.’ It was just awesome. It made all of this even more precious to us.”

“No. 26 means so much to us,” Jenny said. “All the grandkids wear 26 when they play baseball. My sister has two boys, and when they can’t both wear 26, one will wear 2 and one will wear 6. We’re excited that he wants to wear that number.

“We haven’t had a chance to share this with Mr. Showalter, but you probably know that my dad was a man of strong faith, and if you were to emulate or pick anything of his life to copy, the number is a great thing, and we’re so honored that he wants to wear 26.”

Said Andy: “For him to do that, to take the time to call us up and ask if it was OK, that says a lot about Buck, the Buck we already knew. Hopefully, everyone around here’s going to get to know him real quick and the type of guy he is.”

Showater’s debut on Tuesday night marked the first full Orioles game that Andy has watched on television in 16 years.

“The game opened up and Buck was sitting in the dugout and they panned down to him,” Andy said. “The bar on the dugout was across his face and all I could see was the Oriole hat and the Oriole uniform with No. 26. It brought back some memories. Just for a second, I was like, ‘No, that’s not him.’

“It’s neat. It’s meant a lot to us, to bring the message of who my dad was. He didn’t have to do it and he’s done it and we can’t thank him enough.”

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