Meet camo-wearin' Wade Miley, the best-kept secret in baseball
Miley, not the ultra-hyped Bryce Harper, has been the best rookie in the NL
He is from the small town of Loranger, Louisiana, where he's already a legend
Miley enjoys hunting and fishing and never fails to amuse his teammates
The Louisiana hamlet of Loranger, situated 70 miles north of New Orleans, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, isn't a one or two stoplight kind of town. "It's a one caution light kind of town," says David Pittman, formerly coach of the Loranger High baseball team. "There aren't any stoplights. There's a grocery store called the Piggly Wiggly. There's one restaurant everyone gathers at to tell their fishing stories. There's a beauty salon, a flower shop and a car wash. That's pretty much it."
Loranger's most famous native is the camouflage-wearin', alligator-huntin', fastball-slingin' lefthanded starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Wade Miley, the best-kept secret in baseball. He wasn't famous when he was 16. He doesn't hit the ball 500 feet. He's never had one of his postgame retorts turn into a meme. But it is Miley -- not Bryce Harper -- who has been the best rookie in the National League this season.
On Monday night against the Pirates, Miley had his two ruthless pitches -- a vicious slider and killer two-seamer -- working as he turned in another strong performance, allowing one unearned run over six innings. Miley lowered his ERA to 2.85, and he now leads all National League rookies in Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement at 3.2. (Milwaukee's Mike Fiers is second at 2.8, Harper is fourth at 1.7.) With a strong finish to the season, Miley, who ranks in the top six in the league in ERA, wins (12) and WHIP (1.09), could even force his way into Cy Young discussion.
It's time to take the pitcher from Loranger seriously -- though his teammates would tell you that when the happy-go-lucky 25-year-old with the chinstrap beard is in the room, it's often hard keep a straight face. "Wade lives in his own world," says Cass Hargis, his former teammate at Southeastern Louisiana University, which is 10 miles from Loranger. "People love him because he doesn't take himself seriously. He just eats up all the redneck stuff people make fun of him for and just rolls with it."
In Wade's World there's never a dull moment. An avid hunter -- he told a USA Today writer that his proudest moment was cutting off a deer's head with a box cutter -- Miley, who likes to show up at the ballpark in head-to-toe camouflage, once bought his coaching staff at Double-A Mobile camouflage shirts.
"He had us walk out for BP all dressed in camo," says his then pitching coach Dan Carlson.
This past spring training Miley provided his teammates with daily entertainment when the team gathered around in the clubhouse each morning for Words with Wade -- a player would pick a word of the day, and Miley would endearingly stumble his way through spelling it.
Everyone has a Wade Being Wade story. There's the now-legendary story of the time Miley was with some teammates at the team hotel when he approached the front desk to ask how long a cab ride to Alcatraz would take. The clerk replied with a straight face: "Seven hours." The team was in San Diego. Once during a bus ride while he was at Southeastern Louisiana, Miley had the idea of seeing how many pieces of bubble gum he could fit into his mouth. "He actually got something like 39," says Hargis. "Or 40. Whatever it was, it was enough to make him shut up, which is impressive."
Just as impressive is just how far he's come over the last four months. Miley started the year in Triple-A Reno and was called up only after an injury to Takashi Saito; now here he is, the ace of the defending NL West champs as they try to make up a five-game deficit in the division. According to this analysis at Fangraphs, Miley's effectiveness this year comes from his ability to locate his slider and two seam-fastball.
"In the minor leagues he was able to throw his changeup and curveball more," says Carlson. "But the two seamer with the great action at the bottom of the strike zone and the power slider were always his bread and butter. That's what he was always going to live and die with, with men in scoring position. And that's been working great for him. A lefthander with great action on his fastball and a power slider -- those guys are a premium in the major leagues."
In Loranger there are now plans to erect a sign along Highway 40, the road that runs past the Piggly Wiggly and the beauty salon and through the one caution light. LORANGER: HOME OF WADE MILEY, it will read. Says Pittman, "The town is incredibly proud of him -- we just want to recognize him and give him some love."
It's time for the baseball world to do the same.