Like father, like son
Paonia's Jaden Miller following in his dad's baseball footsteps
PAONIA — It’s not one of those situations where you can squint and mistake the son for his father.
Paonia High School baseball coach Nate Miller and his son, Jaden, do look alike, standing side by side. But on the baseball diamond, it’s hard to see similarities.
Jaden is a catcher, whereas his father thrived as a pitcher less than two decades earlier for Paonia. Jaden is a better hitter, Nate said, even though “he still can’t touch his old man on the mound.”
But the similarities start to appear when Jaden rounds the bases.
Jaden, a broad-shouldered sophomore, moves well, but has a stiff, upright running style with his arms making short jabs forward.
“Everybody says we run the same,” Nate said. “Which is not a compliment, that’s for sure.”
But Jaden has 15 doubles this season, the most of any player in Colorado regardless of classification, and he’s done it playing home games in the moderately sized Volunteer Park outside Paonia. Since he’s not hitting into cavernous gaps, he’s demonstrated some level of speed for the Eagles, currently unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in CHSAANow.com’s Class 2A poll.
Jaden’s .587 average is second on the team and he has four home runs and 22 RBI.
He’s the kind of hitter who would have driven his dad — one of the best small-school pitchers in Colorado history — completely nuts. Nate pointed out that his son can drive the ball in every part of the zone and — like many of his teammates — hits well to the opposite field.
It wasn’t that long ago that Nate was causing opposing batters to shake their heads as they walked back to the dugout. Nate was the Class 2A Player of the Year for three straight years before the Eagles moved up a classification his senior season. Nate was the first 2A player in nearly two decades to make the Denver Post’s All-Colorado baseball team.
All the individual accolades helped bring three consecutive state titles back to Paonia.
During Nate’s senior year at Paonia in 1999, Jaden was born.
Then, Nate brought his talents to Grand Junction where he pitched for then Mesa State College.
Nate made 64 appearances in his career, the most by any pitcher in the program’s history according to CMUMavericks.com.
In 2001, Nate struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings pitched, the second-highest rate in school history according to CMUMavericks.com.
Throughout Nate’s college career, Jaden was present.
“Jaden spent a lot of time in the dugout at Mesa State,” Dad said. “Never really bat-boyed for us or anything, but he was around Mesa State players. Probably learned a lot of things from those guys he shouldn’t have learned. He had quite the vocabulary at a young age, that’s for sure. But he’s been around it a long time and I’ve always taught Jaden to enjoy it. If you can’t enjoy doing this, don’t do it.”
But Jaden has been around the game from the time he was a baby, soaking in the game of baseball.
Before he could walk, Jaden was around one of the most successful NCAA Division II coaches in the country in CMU’s Chris Hanks.
It wasn’t just Jaden soaking it in, though. Nate said his coaching style reflects the teachings of Hanks.
“Coach Hanks has taught me tons of things,” Nate said. “I bring a lot from him. Him and coach (Jeff) Rodgers … the pitching coach there at Mesa. You can hear us doing some things out here and it’s probably stuff that coach Hanks says, probably mimics what he does. I learned a lot from (Hanks), tons, and what he’s done at Mesa, it was good to have him, especially now that I’m coaching.”
Nate worked to impart some of the lessons he learned to Jaden early on, and Jaden took to baseball when he was old enough to throw a ball.
Then, two years ago, Jaden convinced his dad, who had coached him through youth baseball, to take the head coaching position at Paonia. Nate, who lives in Grand Junction, did just that.
“When the coach up here quit, Jay-doh and I were talking and he told me that there wasn’t a coach up here and I should do it,” Dad said. “Went in and interviewed for it and got it a week later.”
Jaden said he’s fortunate to have grown up around mentors who knew the game well.
“I’ve just been around a lot of good coaches,” Jaden said. “I can take a lot of things that make me feel confident in everything I do. I feel confident about being able to help other people on the team, too.”
In his locker, Jaden keeps photos of his dad during his playing days, as well as photos of his grandfather, Dan, to motivate him on the diamond. “I feel like I’m trying to live up to what my dad’s done and follow in his footsteps,” Jaden said.
So far, it’s worked, with Colorado Prep Report ranking Miller as the No. 6 player statewide in the class of 2018. Last year, the Eagles reached the Class 2A quarterfinals.
Jaden admitted his dad might be a little harder on him then other players, but said the entire team meshes well. It’s easier to hit with confidence, too, when there are players like Trevor Smith and Kayden Seriani — two of the top hitters in Class 2A — in the lineup.
Nate echoed his son, saying his father-son relationship hasn’t affected the team’s chemistry.
“Getting to spend the four years of high school with him is special to me,” Nate said. “It’s father-son, but I’m the coach and he knows it. We don’t have those problems up here with any of the guys. This team shows up, they’re loose and everybody knows what they’re doing.”