Corky Miller’s textbook approach

CINCINNATI — Corky Miller sits in the Cincinnati Reds dugout with a notebook open across his lap, pen furiously scribbling as the baseball game unfolds in front of him.
Manager Dusty Baker notices.
“I see him taking notes,” he said. “I think he’s probably watching catcher Devin Mesoraco, doing a critique. Of course, he could be just doodling, too.”
Miller, the 37-year-old catcher who has spent 15 years in professional baseball but appeared in only 205 major league games, isn’t just making squiggly lines and stick figures.
He is taking meticulous notes. He watches opposing pitchers to capture tendencies and tip-offs. He watches opposing hitters to observe their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes. He watches opposing coaches to pick up signs.
He is a coach in a player’s body and the perfect guy to direct a young catcher like Mesoraco, who is learning on the job. And Mesoraco realizes the wealth of knowledge stuffed into Miller’s 250-pound backstop-like body.
So when catcher Ryan Hanigan was injured and Miller was pulled up from Triple-A Louisville, Mesoraco invited Miller to live with him.
Together they are like, well, M&Ms (Miller & Mesoraco).
“We don’t go into a lot of things about baseball when we’re home, but if we have something we need to talk about, we talk about it,” said Miller. “Mostly it is just hanging out. Believe me, I know how it is. You have a lot of responsibilities in a game when you are a catcher.
“A lot of times when you go back to your apartment and you are living by yourself you try to go over pitch-by-pitch as a catcher and pitch-by-pitch when you are hitting and the next thing you know it is 2 a.m. and you can’t sleep.”
Mostly they hang out, keep each other company and try to have a good time — win or lose, success or failure, “And it was nice of him to open his house to me. He didn’t have to do that. He could have told me to go live in a hotel. And I would have.”
Miller is proud of the improvement he is seeing in the 24-year-old Mesoraco, the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2007.
“It is going to take time for him to get where he wants to be,” said Miller. “Some days he understands that and some days he doesn’t. Sometimes when you work on things so much and you don’t get the results as fast as you want it takes a toll on you. But he understands what he has to do. He wants to hit, be an offensive guy, because his defense has gotten better. It takes experience, though, being in the game and understanding the pitchers.”
Miller said part of the learning curve is getting to know your own pitchers, mainly knowing when to adapt and veer away from a game plan.
“It’s real easy when your pitcher has better stuff than usual, better than what you thought he’d have when the game starts,” said Miller. “It’s not so easy when they have less than usual.”
Miller cited rookie pitcher Tony Cingrani, sensational in his first three starts, but not so sensational in his last start in Chicago. He only gave up four runs and three hits, but two of those hits were a pair of two-run home runs to Alfonso Soriano.
“Six innings, four runs, two hits? Not bad. But for us, me and him, it was not one of our easier games because he was all over the place with his pitches (two hit batsmen). You have to adapt to the situations.”
And that’s the process Mesoraco is absorbing from Miller and manager Dusty Baker sees the education of Mesoraco paying off.
“He is way improved over last year, which is what you want to see,” said Baker. “He is conscious of the game he is calling. He is working on his throwing, working on his footwork.
“Catching is a position where you have to do a lot of things,” Baker added. “And then you have to transition from offense to defense quicker than anybody on the field. I can’t imagine striking out with the bases loaded and then go behind the plate and still not be upset. You can go to the outfield and kick the dirt and maybe not have a play the entire inning.
“He has come a long way and Corky being here really helped him,” Baker added. “He really admires and looks up to Corky.”