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SLU pitcher Miller Hogan

St. Louis University pitcher Miller Hogan. Courtesy SLU.  

Miller Hogan was 8 years old when he fell in love with baseball. That’s when the St. Louis University ace was captivated by the Red Sox’s improbable charge past the Yankees during the 2004 American League Championship Series.

Few baseball experts gave the Red Sox a chance after they lost the first three games in the best-of-seven ALCS. History was against Boston, and so was the Curse of the Bambino. Until it wasn’t.

The Red Sox won the next four games to reach the World Series before breaking the Curse of the Bambino for good against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium II. There are no curses associated with SLU’s baseball team, but Hogan knows history and the odds are against the Billikens heading into their NCAA regional at Ole Miss this weekend.

The Billikens, who have earned the team’s eighth NCAA berth and first since 2013, have never won an NCAA Tournament game in the modern era. They were winless in their 2006, 2010 and 2013 appearances. Heck, they went 40 years between appearances after the 1966 Billikens made the school’s fourth consecutive appearance.

Hogan learned early in life that overwhelming odds only serve to make the triumph even sweeter, whether on the baseball diamond or in life. His mother, Maureen Hellhake, first taught him that lesson while they watched the 2004 ALCS on television in Kansas.

“I didn’t know much about baseball then, but I was starting to learn,” he said. “My mom explained to me the gravity of the 3-0 comeback against the Yankees, the Curse of the Bambino and all that kind of stuff. I started to realize the romantic part about baseball. That’s when I really started to fall in love with it.”

Then at the age of 11 three years later, Hogan began to dream of one day playing in the majors.

Then baseball became somewhat of a refuge for him by the end of his freshman year of high school as he dealt with his parents’ divorce.

“Off the field the toughest thing I had to deal with was my parents’ divorce,” he said. “They’re fairly common now, but they’re never clean. Especially at the time in my life 14-15, that’s a weird age for a kid, let alone if they have a clean family experience.

“It got a little messy. My sisters and my dad didn’t talk for four or five years. I felt like I was the middleman to a lot of really pressure-tension-filled situations, trying to mend those relationships. Eventually it all worked out. Everybody’s on good terms now. We’re starting to just kind of move on with it.”

The divorce happened right around the start of the summer travel ball season. He found some joy in being around his teammates at showcase tournaments that summer.

He was usually out of town up to four days a week with some of the kids he still considers among his best friends today.

“That was a huge thing for me to be able to escape from that,” he said, “and really just have my own time away for myself and forget about it and do what I really love doing.”

Through it all, his parents, Tim Hogan and Maureen Hellhake, and his stepdad have maintained a constant presence at Miller’s baseball games. They attended most of his starts at SLU along with dozens of relatives who made the long drive from Kansas or from the St. Louis area.

Hellhake is the quieter, more reserved parent who doesn’t steer too far from “Go, Miller, go” cheers. Tim, who coached his son and daughters in youth sports, is more stoic, stern and intense.

He likes to sit by himself at Miller’s games. He never sat in the bleachers at Miller’s Little League, select or high school games. He preferred to bring a lawn chair and sit up the right field line by the bullpen area.

Tim Hogan migrated to seats behind the plate for SLU games to be closer to the catcher and the radar guns. Those seats were easier to secure at SLU, which set its attendance high this year with 411 fans against Jacksonville on April 20.

Tim Hogan will now watch his son play at Ole Miss’ Swayze Field, which has already topped 12,000 in attendance for a game this season.

“Maybe being in a big stadium might be interesting for him,” Miller says. “I don’t know how much he’ll like it.”

Whether his dad likes it or not, Miller Hogan is excited for the challenge. Ole Miss and the rest of the Southeastern Conference ignored him when he graduated from high school.

SLU was the only school that paid serious attention to Hogan while he starred at Blue Valley Southwest High even though he threw a perfect game and a no-hitter in the Kansas state tournament in 2014.

“You’re going to have a guy who believes that we belong,” SLU coach Darin Hendrickson said. “The one thing I know Miller won’t be, is afraid. ... The crowd and the venue and what’s at stake playing an NCAA regional, I wouldn’t rather have anybody out there but him on that game on Friday night.”

Hogan, who is expected to be drafted in the first eight rounds of the baseball draft next week, is adamant that he and his teammates are a confident bunch. As far as he’s concerned, they already broke one curse by helping Hendrickson win an A-10 Tournament title last weekend.

“I want to roll into an SEC school in front of 10,000 people on a Friday night and show them that (even though) we don’t have all that fancy gear and stuff we can still play a little ball,” he said. “I think that’s how we all feel. We’re going to go out there and we’re going to really take it to them. We don’t want to play scared. We think we’re pretty good at this, so we’re going to go out there and try to kick some tail.”

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Jose de Jesus Ortiz

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