NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – This month, as we honor Black History, WAVY.com highlights those in our community who strive for greatness and have impacted the lives of others.
A shining example of that is a man named Marty Miller. He has been inducted into nine Halls of Fames for his success as both a baseball player for Norfolk State and as a coach.
“I just never pictured myself achieving those honors, but someone thinks that I did well,” laughed Marty Miller.
As we sit with Miller, on the Marty L. Miller Baseball Field at Norfolk State University, he reflected on the past that got him to the present.
“I’ve had a lot of surprises in my life,” Miller explained.
As a kid born in Danville, Virginia, Miller’s dream was to be a major league baseball player. Several colleges and universities recruited the athletic honors student, and he decided Norfolk State was the place for him.
“When I enrolled, I didn’t have a lot of money. Norfolk State actually took me in,” Miller said. “I think by the time I arrived here, I had about $10 left. I left home with $20, and seven of those dollars, I had to catch the Greyhound bus to get here!”
Financial aid helped Miller make Norfolk State his home, and this math major quickly found his footing on the baseball field.
“I ended up becoming an All-American. That worked out well. I lead the nation in hitting doubles my senior year. So, you know, being an all-conference player for two years, it was just a wonderful experience for me,” said Miller.
He says playing baseball at Norfolk State was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
“I had an opportunity to meet some wonderful people.”
Miller says those people, and baseball put him on a path for which he will be forever grateful.
“It did encourage me to become a person to try and do the best I could each and every day because every day I walked on the field, I wanted to be the best player,” Miller said. “That encourages me even in my work today. I still have the attitude that I want to be the very best at what I do. So, it helped me develop some of the characteristics I have today.”
Miller still dreamed of playing in the major leagues after graduating from Norfolk State when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army during the Vietnam War.
“I was in air defense artillery, which I was assigned to Ft. Bliss in Texas.”
He served for nearly two years before he was able to get out to fulfill his dream.
“They gave me an early out, believe it or not, so I could go to Spring Training.”
You read that correctly. While Marty served in the military, the Minnesota Twins called on him to play professional baseball.
“To think that I was there with individuals like Rod Carew, Killebrew, Oleaver, you know, it was like a dream come true for me. The first day, I can still remember that to this day, when I walked on the field, we was in Spring Training, people were in the stands, and I was just as nervous as I could be,” said Miller. “The fans did not know my name at that time, but they were calling out my number, and you know, I’m trying to stay composed, be a professional, but it was a dream come true, because my dream was always to become a professional baseball player, and I said to myself on that day, that I accomplished my dream. I actually was a professional baseball player.”
The Twins ultimately decided not to sign Miller to a contract. In a full circle moment, Miller headed back to Norfolk State.
“I began to accept the fact that God’s plan for me was not to be a professional baseball player. At one point I was the director of financial aid at Norfolk State, and believe it or not, over the years, I’ve had so many former students who have approached me, and some of them have even used this term, ‘You saved my life.’ Because when I was in financial aid, students needed money to be able to finish school, and I was able to help them find the finances that they need to get their degrees.”
During his time at NSU, he says the baseball coach left. That’s when the athletic director asked Miller to work out with the team until they found a coach.
“My role was to prepare the team for the season, which was about two weeks away, so that they could hire a coach. So, two weeks rolled around, and I didn’t get any information! So, I approached coach. I said, ‘Coach! Where’s the baseball coach?’ He told me, ‘Oh! We forgot about it! You’re going to be the coach for the year.’ It was a surprise! So, I was thrown into the mix,” laughed Miller.
You might be surprised to learn; he didn’t enjoy coaching at first. At the end of the first year, he told the athletic director he didn’t want to coach again.
“He said, ‘Well, would you just do one more year for us? So, I decided to come on back and compete and coach that second year in which we won the championship. That was a real surprise to everyone but us. After that, I started liking it,” laughed Miller.
“I started liking it! I said this is okay! Then we won the championship again the following year. So, I found myself really enjoying the game from a different perspective, from the players’ standpoint to the coach’s standpoint. I saw that I could have an impact on the lives of young men. I coached for about 33 years.”
Behold! Marty Miller’s true calling…realized.
“Everything that I have done, the regular financial aid, I’ve been the baseball coach, I’ve been the director of athletics, I even taught mathematics one semester. It all centered around helping someone else. That’s what I enjoy doing, even to this day, I’m always trying to find a way to help someone else.”
Miller says he is always touched when his former athletes, and students on campus, say he has impacted their lives.
“It’s just been a revelation for me to know that I have impacted their lives to that degree, but what they don’t understand is they also impacted my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it was not for them.”
Miller is a humble man who credits his hard work for being inducted into 9 halls of fame including:
–CIAA Hall of Fame
-Norfolk State University Hall of Fame (student athlete & coach)
–Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame
–Hampton Roads African American Sports Hall of Fame
–American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame
–VA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame (inaugural class)
–Virginia Sports Hall of Fame
Most recently, Miller became Chairman of the Board of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
“I’m so happy that I’m a part of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame board, and actually now we are beginning to do some new and creative things that I think are going to brand this organization. The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame is the official state hall of fame, and we have some great athletes that come out of Virginia. So, we want to have the opportunity to highlight the performances of our athletes here, and I think we are now creating some opportunities to show, not only the people of Virginia, but the world, about how well we do what we do here in sports and athletics. We’re going to want the public, the people, to become more involved in what we are doing here, so we are going to be reaching out with some programs and activities we’re hoping bring us closer together and expose some of the things that we are doing.”
Speaking of greatness, Miller says this is a great moment for HBCUs.
“A lot of people never realized the things that we have to offer, but what we do, we’re doing well. So, I think people are beginning to appreciate all of the things that we have to offer, and some of the things that we have accomplished over the year. It has been an eye-opening experience for a lot of people to realize that HBCUs have a lot to offer, and we’ve been doing it for a long, long time.”
Miller is especially proud of the HBCU where he has spent most of his life.
“I’ve always felt that Norfolk State is a place where we change lives, and I wanted to be in an environment where I could make a positive difference, and impact, on young people to help them become all they can be.”
Miller currently works as the special assistant to the president of Norfolk State University.
WAVY News would also like to give a very special congratulations to Miller and his wife as they celebrate 50 years of marriage this year.