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Jaywalking

Miller time?

Like the ringing of a store door announcing a new customer, there is a familiar sound whenever Northfield’s George Miller enters The Recorder newsroom.

“Miller Time,” are the words that resonate from editor Gary Sanderson, colleague Mark Durant or myself as he enters, sometimes all three of us chiming in unison. For many others, it’s Miller Time every time they attend a UMass men’s basketball game at the Mullins Center, where Miller has worked as the public-address announcer since the middle of the 2005-06 season. Now, the local man is hoping that he can make it Miller Time for everyone who spins the Fenway Park turnstiles for a Boston Red Sox game.

Miller was one of a number of participants who took part over the past week in the Red Sox search for a new public-address announcer, after the passing of former PA man Carl Beane on May 9 of last season. Miller made the trek to Boston on Saturday where he was invited to try out for the seat, which Beane had held since 2003.

The invitation to attend the tryout came as a bit of a surprise for Miller, who had originally applied for a guest spot in the booth last season. After Beane’s death, the Red Sox allowed people to apply for one-game “Guest in the Chair” spots. Miller waited until July, two months after Beane’s death, to make contact, out of respect for his former colleague.

“I had it in mind that it was disrespectful,” he said when asked why he waited. “I heard that the Red Sox had people contact them on the day he died. I didn’t like that.”

Miller finally heard back from the Red Sox around Labor Day when they contacted him to inform him that there were too many applicants and too few games for them to squeeze him into the booth last season. They did inform him that he would remain in the mix for the job because they had yet to name a replacement for Beane. And while we may be a bit biased, due to the fact that Miller is a regular contributor to this department, covering both UMass athletics as well as high school games, it is the collective feeling of the three of us that there is no one better suited for the job than the Oberlin (Ohio) College graduate.

It was back during his freshman year at Oberlin that Miller ventured into the world of sports journalism. During the 1983 World Series, Miller met a fellow student named Adam Blumenthal, who worked at WOBC, the campus radio station. The two got to talking about sports and Blumenthal invited Miller to come onto the radio during his Sunday night sports-magazine show. Miller accepted and was soon also doing a sports report as part of the station’s nightly news broadcast. His sophomore year in 1984-85 saw him get more involved, including football play-by-play. Miller still has the recording from the first game he ever broadcast, which he worked with a man by the name of Doyle Rice, who now works as a weather person for USA Today. On Nov. 3, 1984, Oberlin went up against Denison University. That day, Oberlin freshman running back Jim Harrell outrushed Denison senior All-American Chris Spriggs, 213-212, and Oberlin went on to earn a 23-21 victory.

“I remember that as a big deal that Oberlin’s freshman outran Denison’s All-American senior,” he recalled.

Miller went on to become the sports director for WOBC during his junior and senior years, when he said he poured a lot of his time into the station.

“It was probably to the detriment of more worthwhile academic things I should have been doing,” he said. “People at the station took it very seriously for college kids, which was very refreshing. They worked hard at it and it was a pretty good product, which you might not always expect from 18- to 22-year-olds.”

Upon graduation in May of 1987, Miller, who had graduated high school from Northfield Mount Hermon School, came back to the area. In September, Miller spotted an ad in this very newspaper about an opening for a sports director job at WHMP-AM in Northampton. Miller said the entire hiring process took exactly five days. He noticed the ad on a Tuesday and was offered the job on Saturday by operations manager Mike Dion. He accepted it that Monday, and in October of 1987 began a nearly eight-year stint with the station.

His relationship with UMass athletics began in the 1989-90 basketball season, when he did color commentary alongside play-by-play man Tim Ashwell for UMass radio broadcasts. Miller recalls that it was that season that really turned around the Minutemen program and was the start of what would be a successful run in the early to mid-1990s. That season was former coach John Calipari’s second year with the team and UMass went on to have its first winning season in 12 years. The team wound up making a run to the Atlantic 10 Tournament finals, where it lost to Temple by two points, narrowly missing out on the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The next season saw the UMass sports contract get swooped up by another station, but that station went bankrupt and in the fall of 1991, UMass returned to WHMP, where Miller took over as the play-by-play man, a position he held for four years. That included the 1994-95 trip to the Elite 8, where the Minutemen lost to “Big Country” Bryant Reeves and Oklahoma State.

Miller wound up leaving the station in August of 1995. He went on to work radio for the Pittsfield Mets minor-league baseball team in 1997, when the team won the league championship, but the franchise later relocated to Troy, N.Y., where it became the Tri-City Valleycats. Miller hooked back up with the team for another stint in 2002, when he worked the radio gig and served in media relations for the team.

While he was doing that, his family opened Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in South Deerfield in 2000, and in 2004 Miller began working for the family company, where he still works. Despite that full-time job, Miller has remained a part of the UMass sports scene. Miller worked as public-address announcer for UMass hockey games from the 1995-96 season until 97-98 and he also worked public address for football from 1996-98. He began doing internal PA (which is public address for the media) for UMass football in 2005, and when former basketball PA man Jack O’Neil was diagnosed with cancer in the middle of the 2005-06 basketball season, Miller began working that job. You can also hear his voice during WMass high school basketball and baseball tournament time, as he is the usual man behind the mic at semifinal and final games. Oddly enough, Beane actually filled in for Miller once this past spring during the WMass basketball tournament at Curry Hicks Cage in Amherst (where I happened to be in attendance), while Miller was performing his usual duties for UMass basketball at the Mullins Center.

Now, Miller is looking to take over for Beane. When Miller arrived on Saturday, he could hear others already trying out as he made his way toward Fenway Park. Miller said that during his entire time at the park, he heard just one woman try out. Upon entering the park, Miller was given a script and went with a group of eight or 10 people up to the control room. When it was his turn, Miller sat in the seat and began by reading the introduction made famous by Sherm Feller. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park.” He then read a pregame promotional bit (today’s blood donor of the game), and then read part of the starting lineup, which in this case consisted of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz. Finally, he read lines given during the seventh-inning stretch, in which he said he did elongate “strrrrrreeetch.”

With that, he provided his resume and left.

So it’s a wait-and-see game, now. Should he get the gig, Miller would have to make appropriate arrangements with his job at Magic Wings. The public address job does not pay enough to be an only job, so there would be plenty Miller would have to figure out. But it’s all in the name of what Miller described as “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“It would require some major life-altering decisions,” he said. “It would be a pretty special thing. But it’s not the kind of thing where you can build up your expectations. There’s a lot of interest and a lot of people right there who are just as capable, if not more so. It’s an honor and a great opportunity to be invited, and it would be pretty mind-blowing if the best outcome happens.”

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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