By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Apr 26, 2005 at 5:39 AM

{image2} West Salem's Damian Miller feels he has returned home as the first-string catcher for the Brewers.

Miller, who signed with the Brewers as a free agent, played high school baseball in the state and played college ball at Viterbo in La Crosse. He has played in the big leagues with the Twins, D-Backs, Cubs and A's, but he never stopped following his home state team and considers it a dream come true to now be playing for the Brewers. caught up with Miller near his home in the Coulee Region of the state over the winter, during Spring Training and then on Opening Day.

OMC: How does it feel to be back playing in Wisconsin?

Damian Miller: It's home. I was born and raised here. I have never been able to leave these hills out here. I continued to make my fulltime home here. I love the people of Wisconsin and the state.

OMC: Have you always been a Brewers fan?

DM: I grew up watching the Brewers. I could still name the whole '82 lineup. I just liked the way all those guys played the game. Jimmy Gantner and Molly, and I really loved Robin Yount. I remember watching them, and I was one of those kids who would go down to the bullpen and never ask for an autograph. I just watched those guys and how they went about the game. They weren't real flashy players. They played the game hard, and played the game right. I learned by watching them and decided that's how I wanted to play the game.

OMC: What do you remember about the fans?

DM: I remember how great '82 was, how Milwaukee, the whole state, went crazy for the Brewers. Being from here, I know how the fans can respond, and how they love baseball.

OMC: You're one of three major league catchers from the Coulee Region. Scott Servais and George Williams also came from the area. What gives?

DM: I have no idea why that is. Maybe it's something in the water.


OMC: You were drafted by the Twins. How did they find you?

DM: The Twins are a small-market franchise so they have always put a premium on good scouting. They've invested in it. They find the players no matter where they are.

OMC: You've played on winning teams. What have you learned?

DM: I've been fortunate to be with teams that have won. I've also caught some experienced, proven pitchers (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kerry Wood, Barry Zito, etc.) I really learned a lot when I was in Arizona, as far as how much pitchers want catchers to be into it on the night they are pitching.

I was fortunate to come up on a team where there were a lot of veteran guys, like Jay Bell, Matt Williams, Finley. I watched them on a daily basis and how they played the game hard every day. There's no showboating and saying, "I don't feel like playing today."

I think we can establish that here, too. What I've seen are some talented young pitchers who are just waiting to be proven. They want to learn. I want to help.

OMC: Chad Moeller is your backup, just like he was with the D-Backs.

DM: Catchers always get along well because we know what each other is going through. Having Chad here helped because we knew each other, and because he knew most of the pitchers from last season.

OMC: The Brewers have always been plagued by injuries. You've been pretty healthy all your career. Can you keep it up?

DM: I'm sure some luck is involved, especially with the position I play. There's always a chance you can get hit by a ball here, there and you're done for a couple weeks or a month. Fortunately, I've been able to avoid those, and -- knock on wood -- I'll be able to do it for the next three years here.

OMC: What does this mean to your family?

DM: My wife will be able to go home with the kids every road trip because it's only three hours away. My family and friends should be able to come to Miller Park for games with no problems.

I had a lot of people at Opening Day. It was fun. It was exciting to play before so many people you knew, on the home team.

OMC: Do you think you are catching the Brewers at a good time?

DM: I might not have signed with them a few years ago even though they were my favorite team. With the new ownership, there's a lot of optimism. It is an ever-improving franchise. In my opinion, the team has one of the best managers in baseball in Ned Yost.

To get a chance to play for him on a daily basis, and for Doug Melvin as a general manager, who I have a lot of respect for, is a great opportunity. They're trying to get this thing going in the right direction. I just want to be part of it. I'd like to end my career here, knowing I contributed to success of the franchise like I remember when I was a kid.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.