Q & A: WSU All-Time Hits Leader Jay Miller

Individuals who master a skill do not have to be people with freakish natural abilities. My college baseball teammate Jay Miller is a prime example. Miller is maybe five-foot-nine and weighed about 175 pounds during his playing days.

Yet, with a relentless commitment to hitting and working on his timing, he left WSU as the all-time leader in hits. No one took more batting practice with what we called “Iron Mike” (our mechanical pitching machine) than Miller. He could be found on nights, weekdays, and weekends hammering away on Iron Mike. This commitment paid off. He surpassed the career hit totals of MLB standouts like John Olerud, Ron Cey, and Scott Hatteberg.

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Jay Miller

  • Washington State University all-time hits leader
  • WSU Hall of Fame Inductee  
  • Four-time Pac-12 all-conference selection
  • Freshman All-American
  • Played professionally for the Philadelphia Phillies organization

CH: What is your proudest accomplishment as an athlete?

JM: Individual accomplishment would be setting the all-time hit record at WSU. This was never a goal of mine, but after all is said and done, that is something. Team accomplishment would be winning the state championship in high school. We were never projected to win state, but we really came together as a team at the right time. Quite honestly, the accomplishments don’t cross my mind that much, though. It’s the things I wanted to accomplish and I didn’t that I really think about (and it bugs me).

CH: What sacrifices did you make that contributed to your success?

JM: Time. I trained, a lot. I hit, a lot. I always told myself at the end of my career I never wanted to say it ended when it did because I didn’t work hard enough.

CH: What were your non-negotiable habits?

JM: Don’t make excuses. Never blame others. Train with a purpose.

CH: Who was your role model? What did they teach you?

JM: My father was my role model. Amongst many life lessons I have and continue to receive from him, the biggest lesson I learned was there are two things I can control: attitude and effort.

CH: Who was your favorite teammate and why?

JM: My brother, Jeff Miller. He pushed me harder than anyone and was someone I played with my entire life. He truly made me a better player because of how much he believed in me. I believe that a great teammate makes those around them better. My brother truly did that for me, and it probably had to do with how well he knew me. Not everyone is fortunate enough to play with someone as long as I did with him, but he knew me—knew how to push me and get the most out of me.  

 Jay’s younger brother Jeff, was also a 4-year starter for the Cougs

Jay’s younger brother Jeff, was also a 4-year starter for the Cougs

CH: What was your favorite failure? What did you learn, and how did you overcome?

JM: As a freshman at WSU, I went 0-15 to start my first year in collegiate baseball. I ended up leading the team in hitting and earning all-conference, as well as Freshman All-American honors. There was a point I truly doubted my ability to play at the collegiate level. I overcame it by not giving up, moving forward, and continuing to improve my skills. What I learned was, 1-16 (or 1-1 the way I looked at it) gave me all the confidence I needed. Essentially, I was one hit away from getting my mental edge back. Sometimes you just need to throw out the stats and say, “This is a new start, I am 1-1.”

CH: Describe a moment when you were in a flow state (a.k.a., “in the zone”). What did it feel like?

JM: When I think about times I was in the zone, the one thing that stands out from a mental standpoint was I wasn’t thinking as much as I was reacting. Just trusting my instincts to take over, which I believe are developed through practice. More specifically, I wasn’t concerned about my swing or any outside factors. For example, the pitcher has a great curveball, or I am getting on my front foot too much. Trust the training, and let your instincts take over.

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CH: What routines did you consistently perform during the day of competition to get yourself ready to play?

JM: There weren’t any physical routines that needed to be consistent, it was more about getting my head right—making sure my pre-game warm-up gave me confidence going into the game. Or better said, making sure I felt confident going into the game. I never found one way in particular to do this. It could be something different every time. If I wasn’t as focused as I needed to be, I needed to find a reason to convince myself I was playing in game seven of the World Series. Or if I wasn’t confident in myself, I would take a round of batting practice and envision every line drive or hit as a game-winning hit. Mentally, I would put myself in situations that could boost my confidence or increase my focus. 

CH: What would you do to increase your confidence?

JM: Remind myself of times I was successful. Sometimes that would include reading old newspaper clips or watching old video.

CH: What was your why? What drove you to be a top performer?

JM: I always played with a chip on my shoulder. Like I had something to prove. I was constantly reminded of the people who didn’t think I was any good or didn’t recruit me. I was too small, no power, no speed (which was all true). Conversely, I wanted to prove right those people that did believe in me, and I wasn’t going to let them down.

CH: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?

JM: So much. Here are a few [pieces of advice]:

Talent doesn’t make people successful in athletics. A lot of athletes can get by on talent alone early in their careers, but eventually that catches up to them as the level of competition catches up. Don’t get me wrong, talent can take you a long way, but of the truly great athletes I have been around, they haven’t made it to where they are on talent alone. Just because they can run fast, jump high, or throw hard, doesn’t mean they will be successful in athletics.  

Don’t focus so much on your weaknesses. Be the best at something whether it’s base running, bunting, fielding, route-running (football), etc. I often lost sight of what I was great at and only practiced things I struggled with, and inherently my strengths became less of an asset.

Don’t try and be someone else. Every athlete is different. There isn’t one way to hit a baseball.  Yes, there are techniques related to baseball (and hitting specifically) that are perceived to be more effective. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they work for you. Know your strengths and build off of that. 

Lastly, don’t worry about things you can’t control.

Thank you for reading! To gain more insights and tools to win the inner-game, check out my new book Master Your Mindset, and learn how to take your game and life to the next level.  ORDER HERE

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Collin Henderson