PHOENIX — Mitch and Stacy Miller of Brownwood, Texas, had planned to be at Chase Field here Sunday to watch their son, Shelby, the Cardinals' top draft pick in 2009 and top pitching prospect in the system, appear for the second year in succession at the All-Star Futures Game.
Instead they were on hand in Brownwood for the funeral services and memorial Sunday and today for Shannon Stone, the Brownwood resident who fell to his death last week at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Mitch Miller and Shannon Stone were firefighters together for the city of Brownwood and once lived together before Miller got married.
"He knew (Stone) pretty well," Shelby Miller said Sunday before he worked a scoreless third inning in the 6-4 win by the United States over the World team here.
"My parents are staying home. Brownwood is a small town, and it's really sad down there right now.
"He was a really great person. I was just speechless when I heard (of the tragedy)."
When Miller pitched recently for Class A Springfield at Frisco, Texas, some 170 miles from Brownwood, the Stone family and the Millers all came to the game.
Miller, who is 4-1 with a 1.90 earned run average at Springfield after being promoted from Class A Palm Beach, said the night he was drafted a couple of years ago that he hoped to be in the major leagues in two years. He might not quite make that goal but he might not be far behind.
"Right now, I'm just trying to stay focused on Double-A," he said. "It's something I've been wanting to get to this year, and it's here finally. You're always looking forward. You're always trying to get moved up and go to the next level. But I can't take for granted where I am right now."
Miller has made no secret of his admiration for and his desire to emulate a couple of other hard-throwing Texas high schoolers: Hall of Fame Nolan Ryan and Boston All-Star Josh Beckett.
"I want to follow in their footsteps as much as possible," Miller said. "They've all been successful ... at the big-league level. Nolan's in the Hall of Fame. I'm assuming Josh will be there one day. They chased their dreams, just like I did.
"Hopefully, I can join them someday."
Ryan, the president of the Texas Rangers who almost drafted Miller in 2009, often inquires how Miller is doing. Miller, asked what answer he would give to Ryan, smiled and said, "I'm doing good so far. I'm having a great year."
With his parents watching on television, Miller pitched around a hit and a walk in his one inning.
One of his U.S. squad teammates was Jacob Turner, the former Westminster Christian Academy star who was taken by Detroit in the first round in 2009. Turner got the first two outs of the ninth before being replaced by Matt Harvey, the one U.S. pitcher who hadn't appeared.
Turner, 3-3 with 79 strikeouts and 29 walks at Class AA Erie in 15 starts, is with a Tigers organization that already has one St. Louis area product in its rotation in Parkway Central grad Max Scherzer. Turner said, "That would be awesome" to be with Scherzer, and it may not be that far off.
The Tigers have had only one win from the fifth spot in their rotation and Turner, who now will head to the Eastern League All-Star Game on Wednesday in Manchester, N.H., is said to be on the very fast track toward getting that spot.
But Turner said, "I focus on what's in front of me right now. I'm focused on getting guys out in Double-A. I think the Tigers are doing a good job with me."
Turner said that, until the last couple of years, he had been a Cardinals fan. "Either you were a Cardinals fan, or you were shunned," he said.
Turner, who turned 20 in May, was the third-youngest player on the Futures squads. The youngest was 19-year-old Palm Beach righthander Carlos Martinez, the highly touted Cardinals prospect who worked a scoreless inning for the World team, fanning one hitter and getting a double-play ball. Two of Martinez's pitches were clocked at 98 miles an hour.
"He has a lot of talent," said Miller, who saw Martinez throw this spring in Jupiter, Fla. "He's young. He has a live fastball and he's got a good curveball. I think he'll be a big-league pitcher some day. He's just got to do the right things and learn from everybody."
World team manager Luis Gonzalez commended Martinez but added, "Was there any kid out there not throwing 94 or 95?"
Then there was former University of Missouri star Kyle Gibson, who kidded that he might have been the only pitcher who appeared who didn't throw 90 mph. "I rely on movement a lot," said Gibson, who had to overcome a stress fracture in his pitching arm in his last year at Missouri in 2009.
"Hopefully, they're swinging at 97 when I'm throwing 87," said Gibson, who is at Class AAA Rochester in the Minnesota organization.
Alas, Gibson's first pitch after he came out of the bullpen was at 92 mph and it resulted in a run-scoring triple. But he went on to work 1 1/3 scoreless innings.